SB 1070 Redux

SB 1070: Victims, Witnesses Can Be Questioned About Immigration Status Under Phoenix PD's Post-1070 Operations Order

The Phoenix human rights group Puente is planning a press conference and rally for Friday, March 9, to protest the Phoenix Police Department's current operations order on immigration enforcement, which allows crime victims and witnesses to be questioned about their immigration status.

The operations order was last revised in October of 2010 to come into compliance with the parts of Arizona's immigration law Senate Bill 1070 that were not enjoined by a federal judge in July of that year. 

But some local immigration activists complain that they were not advised of the changes, which give wide discretion to officers in deciding when and if to contact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Prior to parts of 1070 going into effect, department policy required asking all arrestees about their immigration status, but that same policy prohibited officers from making immigration inquiries of victims and witnesses. It also required cops to check with a supervisor before contacting ICE. 

The new Operations Order 4.48 mirrors the unenjoined parts of 1070, stating that the policy "will not limit the enforcement of federal laws to less than the full extent permitted by the federal law." 

Officers are advised to "exercise discretion" during consensual contacts with victims and witnesses, but they are not prohibited from asking questions about the immigration status of those persons.

And instead of a requirement to contact a supervisor before calling ICE, officers are simply encouraged to contact supervisors "when necessary."

Phoenix Police spokesman Tommy Thompson explained that the department had no choice but to alter the policy, particularly since one section of 1070 not blocked by the federal court was a private right of action allowing any legal resident of Arizona to sue any law enforcement agency that "limits or restricts" the local enforcement of federal immigration law. 

An agency found to be in violation by a court could be fined up to $5,000 a day, a penalty the department cannot ignore, even with the attendant loss of some supervisory power over its employees.

"This was one of our concerns at the time," Thompson said. "That this law would supersede our policies."

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons