TUCSON, Ariz.— A coalition of community groups in Tuscon is using video to show how readily police are cooperating with Border Patrol, despite local law enforcement’s stated opposition to Arizona’s new immigration law before it took effect.
The “Yo Soy Testigo” ("I’m a witness") campaign, launched by Tucson-based Coalición Derechos Humanos, seeks to shine a light on the practice of police cooperation with Border Patrol in the city.
The group, in partnership with PanLeft Productions and Migra Patrol CopWatch, has been using video cameras to document just how often police officers are detaining Latinos—with or without documents—and turning them over to immigration authorities. The group hopes that the videos will increase community awareness of how police are really treating Latinos, despite their supposed opposition to SB1070, and will pressure law enforcement to change its policies.
“We want to expose this reality and for people in the community to take responsibility,” said Isabel Garcia, director of Coalición de Derechos Humanos. She urges people to call the Yo Soy Testigo hotline to report any incidents so they can be videotaped and documented.
Prior to SB 1070, local police departments and other state agencies already had their own policies to detain undocumented immigrants on a discretionary basis. Had a court allowed the new law to take full effect, such detentions would have become mandatory throughout Arizona.
But the mandatory detention provision of SB 1070 provoked a strong outcry from the state's local law officers.
“We are not interested in enforcing federal immigration law,” said Captain Michael Gillooly, the Tucson Police Department's chief of staff. “The problem with SB 1070 is that it mandated we did that.”
In an interview with the Arizona Daily Star in July, Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor said: “Although illegal immigration has undeniable impacts on Arizona, requiring local police already strapped for resources to act as immigration agents is not the answer.”
The Pima County Sheriff's Department and the South Tucson Police Department also opposed SB 1070.
But despite such widespread opposition, videos captured by Jason Aragon of PanLeft and Migra Patrol Copwatch show a different picture.
A recent video posted online, titled “SB 1070 is in full effect,” shows a woman detained by Tucson police and then shortly after taken away by Border Patrol.
Lynda Cruz, a volunteer with Migra Patrol CopWatch, was present that day, and said the woman was pulled over for a minor infraction. The woman, a legal resident, had forgotten her wallet at home and didn’t have any identification, Cruz says.
Volunteers like Cruz advise people who are detained to refuse to speak with their captors and to request the presence of their attorney.
When New America Media asked about this incident, Gillooly said the Tucson Police Department was confident that the officer acted appropriately and was following department policy.
“Our investigation of that revealed that when the Border Patrol arrived, that female refused to answer any questions,” Gillooly said. He said the federal agent was forced to take her to the station to check whether she was an undocumented immigrant.
When asked why the police detained this woman and called the Border Patrol, Gillooly said he wouldn’t provide any more information.
Cruz said similar incidents have occurred in South Tucson, an area that is predominantly Hispanic.
Gillooly said the department has not seen an increase in complaints from community members about possible racial profiling or police abuse.
“People don’t complain? How are they going to complain if they are the ones retaliated against?” responded Garcia of the Coalición de Derechos Humanos.
The situation in Tucson hasn’t attracted nearly as much media attention as the controversial immigration raids in Latino neighborhoods in Phoenix by Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies. But, in many ways, the dynamics at play in Tucson are creating heightened tensions.
About 40 percent of the city’s half-million residents are Latinos. Tucson, located less than two hours from the Mexican border, is also home to a Border Patrol station, which facilitates more direct cooperation between police and U.S. immigration authorities. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has 3,300 Border Patrol agents dedicated to the Tucson sector of the border.
In the past five years, the Border Patrol added 1,000 agents as part of a federal effort to escalate border security.
Unlike Phoenix, it is not uncommon to see Border Patrol cars driving through Tucson. Many of those who work at the Border Patrol station live in the community.
“People are divided over this issue,” said Alex González, a volunteer [or “promotoras”] with Coalición de Derechos Humanos. “Even families are divided on this.”
She said the new “Yo Soy Testigo” hotline has been flooded with calls denouncing police detentions and cooperation with Border Patrol.
One of the calls she took last week came from Gerardo Robles, a heartbroken undocumented immigrant, who sobbed over the phone in desperation. His wife, who was also undocumented, was pulled over by a Tucson police officer in a traffic stop. The officer called the Border Patrol, and now his wife is in a detention center.
Robles and his family have been living in Tucson for six years. He said they considered leaving the state because of SB 1070 but had been hoping for the best— in the past, police had stopped him on several occasions but had never called the Border Patrol. The politics behind SB 1070 might have changed things, he said.
“A criminal that traffics with drugs—those people are in the streets,” he said. “They are the ones that are free. My wife was coming back from work to feed our two children.”