ACLU Sues Over SB 1070 Arrest in Pinal County

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed the first lawsuit over an arrest stemming from Arizona's Senate Bill 1070.

The ACLU's description of Maria Cortes' arrest by Pinal County sheriff's deputies in 2012 sounds just like what 1070 opponents feared would take place under Arizona's immigrant-hunting law: A "cracked windshield" led to Cortes' getting separated from her children and detained by immigration authorities for five days.

"That arrest is not based on any probable cause of having committed any crime . . . it was based on what [the deputy] perceived or believed her immigration status to be," ACLU attorney Victoria López tells New Times.

See also: -Tucson Man Detained Thanks to "Papers Please" Provision of SB 1070

According to the ACLU's lawsuit, Cortes, an Eloy resident, had applied for a visa that's granted to certain survivors of crimes. Cortes' husband is described as abusive, and she had helped authorities in his prosecution.

Cortes' visa application was pending when she was pulled over by a PCSO deputy in September 2012, and she told the deputy she didn't have a driver's license. Cortes was handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car as the deputy investigated her immigration status, and eventually was transported to a Customs and Border Patrol office in Casa Grande. She was cited for three civil traffic violations before being turned over to officials at the CBP office, where she was detained for five days -- although the PCSO deputy's report indicated that Cortes had been cited and released, according to the lawsuit.

"When the officer who stopped me asked if I had a visa, I offered to show him a copy of my pending U-visa application that I keep in the glove compartment of the car but he said he wasn't interested in that," Cortes says in a statement issued by the ACLU. "They put me in the police car, never told me why they were taking me or where I was going, which really worried me because I didn't know what would happen to my children--the five days I spent detained were a nightmare for me."

López says two parts of SB 1070 were in play during this arrest, including section 2(b), which allows local police to investigate a person's immigration status, and section 2(d), which allows police to hand over unauthorized immigrants to federal authorities.

The ACLU contends the arrest and detention were both unconstitutional.

"It is not a crime for a removable alien to remain present in the United States," the lawsuit says. "Therefore, Defendants' belief or suspicion that Plaintiff was unlawfully present in the United States, or desire to investigate her immigration status, did not provide constitutional justification for detaining Plaintiff."

The Pinal County Sheriff's Office did not immediately respond to our request for comment, but we'll update this post if we do get a response. Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu never has been shy about his support for SB 1070.

By the way, Cortes was eventually granted that visa, and is authorized to live and work in the United States.

López says traffic stops like Cortes' probably aren't that unusual. Cortes' case was only brought to the attention of the ACLU because she had already been working with an immigration attorney who helped make the connection.

And although this is the first lawsuit over an SB 1070-related arrest, it's not the first legal action taken. Last year, a 23-year-old man was arrested by South Tucson police and taken to a Border Patrol station in an apparent attempt to determine the man's immigration status. According to an ACLU statement, a lawsuit was averted earlier this year as the police department "agreed to overhaul the department's policies with respect to immigration enforcement." López says there are a couple other notices of claim pending in Tucson in relation to SB 1070 as well.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley