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Police guidelines underscore complexities of Arizona immigration law

A training video focuses on how officers can suspect someone of being in the country illegally without taking race into account. Some of the law's aspects defy explanation, even by state officials.

July 02, 2010|By Nicholas Riccardi, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Phoenix — Police officers enforcing a controversial new Arizona immigration law cannot use race to form a suspicion that someone is in the country illegally, but can rely on people's ability to speak English, their dress and whether they are in an area where illegal immigrants congregate, according to state guidelines released Thursday.

The 90-minute training DVD and accompanying paperwork will be distributed to 15,000 law enforcement officers statewide charged with enforcing the sweeping new law, which is scheduled to take effect July 29.

The law requires police to determine the status of people they stop who they suspect are in the country illegally, and makes it a misdemeanor to lack proper immigration documents in Arizona.

Most of the video focuses on the thorny question of how officers can form a suspicion that someone is an illegal immigrant without taking race into account. Critics have said there is no way to do that without engaging in racial profiling. The guidelines warn officers that activists may try to lure them into stopping people solely based on their race.

"Without a doubt, we're going to be accused of racial profiling on this, no matter what we do," Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor, a vocal opponent of the law, says in the video. "Even if you're on firm ground, there are people out there who are not going to believe this is not racially motivated."

Lyle Mann, head of the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, which produced the video, warns officers that "the entire country is waiting to see how Arizona, particularly Arizona law enforcement, responds."

The training materials, which do not have to be viewed by every officer, were required by Gov. Jan Brewer when she signed SB 1070 into law in April. She said the measure was needed to protect the state from drug violence spilling north from Mexico but that she would not let the law promote racial profiling.

Lydia Guzman, an immigrant rights activist who monitors potential racial profiling in Arizona, said the video is shorter than the training required to certify someone to apply acrylic nails.

"It teaches them how to avoid being accused of racial profiling," Guzman said in an interview. She contended that some of the factors that can raise suspicion would lead to Latinos being targeted.

"It's still profiling," she said.

The Obama administration, which has said the law appears to be unconstitutional, is expected to join several private lawsuits aimed at stopping it from taking effect. The measure has won support from broad majorities in local and national polls, and legislators in several states hope to replicate it over coming months.

The law's various requirements have baffled many lawyers, and the training materials show that even the state government is not certain what some provisions require.

For example, the law requires that all people arrested be held until the federal government verifies their immigration status. But the video says it's unclear whether this applies to arrests for any offense or just those involving possible illegal immigrants.

Additionally, the law allows any legal resident of Arizona to sue if a local agency has a "policy" against enforcing federal immigration laws, but the video warns that no one knows what that means.

The provision puts police in an awkward situation, Mann says in the video, because they will be accused of racial profiling for enforcing the law and risk a lawsuit if they don't.

Several times on the DVD, officials state unequivocally that racial profiling is illegal and counterproductive. "Racial profiling is police misconduct," Mann says.

Attorney Beverly Ginn warns officers not to use race "at all" in forming a suspicion about someone's immigration status. The first indication should be whether, when stopped for possibly violating another law, a person can provide proper identification.

Other possible factors include whether people flee from police, are traveling in an overcrowded vehicle, dress in a suspicious manner — such as in layers that may indicate they have traveled through the desert — or have difficulty communicating in English. The latter cannot be the sole reason for suspicion.

The training DVD also notes that officers have wide discretion on whether to check someone's status. The law only mandates officers make the inquiry if practical.

Ginn says officers may conclude that their heavy workloads and large number of outstanding calls for help make an inquiry impossible. They also should not ask witnesses or crime victims about their status.

Finally, the video stresses that the law does not require legal residents to carry papers in Arizona, even though it makes it a misdemeanor for illegal immigrants to lack those documents. Much of the criticism of the law has centered on the image of Arizona police demanding papers from people they encounter.

"No officer should ever say, 'Show me your papers,' " Mann says. "That's just rude."

nicholas.riccardi@latimes.com

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