In a state where it's legal to walk in public with a gun slung over the shoulder, where hard-line politicians have the majority vote, and a tough-guy sheriff (Joe Arpaio) makes public appearances on national TV saying, "Lock 'em up," it shouldn't have surprised anyone when SB 1070, Arizona's controversial immigration bill, was signed into law last April.
The surprise came from the public outcries, the protests, the lawsuits—and from the mad rush to decipher the complicated law and prepare police to enforce it, beginning July 29, the day it was to take effect.
After signing the bill into law, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer immediately issued an executive order for the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board (AZ POST) to develop a video training program that would help law enforcement implement new policy statewide.
"We had 90 days...to deliver it," says AZ POST Director Lyle Mann, whose agency mailed out 600 copies of the DVD at the end of June to 168 state law enforcement agencies. He and his staff were dealing with a law that amended or added to Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS) already on the books and included provisions that would, among other things:
_Require police officers to check immigration status in instances where they didn't have to in the past.
_Make it a crime to be in Arizona illegally or to be without legal registration papers.
_Make it a crime to smuggle human beings into Arizona.
_Make it a crime to work in Arizona if here illegally.
_Make it a crime to transport or harbor illegal aliens.
Complaints poured in: the laws were unnecessary, many were already covered by federal law; some of the laws were unconstitutional and could violate a person's civil rights; and most hurtful to the Latino community, which felt oppressed by SB 1070, the laws appeared to encourage racial profiling—against them, the majority of known illegal immigrants in Arizona.
On the day she signed the bill into law, Gov. Brewer stated outright, "I will not tolerate racial discrimination or racial profiling in Arizona." But Phoenix Chief of Police Jack Harris, who also heads up the Arizona Association of Chiefs, went on record, opposing the law, anyway, calling it "divisive." In fact, the new law also included a provision allowing legal residents of Arizona to sue police officials or agencies that limited or restricted the enforcement of federal immigration laws.
"If you're looking for criminals, we have those laws already," says Tony Estrada, sheriff of Santa Cruz County, whose agency works daily with federal immigration officers at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBC) when suspects are arrested and booked into jail and need immigration status verified.
"A small agency like ours doesn't have the resources to do the job of the immigration officer. We partner. We intercept. But we do not actively look for illegals...and this law, as it is written," Sheriff Estrada says, "focuses on one race. The state wants them identified, arrested and deported...Mexico is not the enemy."
Estrada is speaking from experience. His Arizona office sits inside an American border town called Nogales. Its closest neighbor is the Mexican town with the same name on the other side of the checkpoint. Up to 40,000 people cross the checkpoint, back and forth, every day, he says. They visit relatives, shop, go to work. They've been doing this for decades.
It's not uncommon for Estrada's officers to find 20-30 bodies out in the nearby desert, bodies of those who did not survive the promise of a better life in the United States. Instead, heat exhaustion and thirst take them down, their smugglers who bring them in through the gaps of the unfinished border fence in the far reaches of the isolated desert, leave them behind to die. Estrada, who believes those who come here to earn an honest living should be left alone, and makes no bones about the new law: "This is a nightmare...for extended family, for relatives, for law enforcement...I'm not for illegal immigration. But I'm a realist."
Regardless, the state means business; it intends to enforce public policy it says the federal government is not. The new law was written to "discourage and deter" illegal aliens from crossing the border and perpetrating violent crimes involving kidnapping, illegal drug activity and murder, regardless what federal statistics say (that there has been less violent crime in Arizona in the last three years).
As word got out and news coverage advanced, the controversial law created what Estrada calls "hysteria" all over the country, and internationally.
In the middle of all of this chaos, AZ POST was charged with creating the training program that would educate state law enforcement agencies about the new laws derived from SB 1070; there were more than a dozen to decipher. At a cost of $14,000 to produce, the video project included legal advice, handouts, and several cautions against what spurred the controversial debate in the first place—the threat of racial profiling. The agency hired immigration law expert Beverly Ginn of Tucson to tell officers what they can expect as they begin implementing the new law under the national spotlight. Expect "to be challenged," she said on video, "To be audio and video taped, to be questioned, to be scrutinized."
Law enforcement officials also weighed in, telling officers, "Nothing in the law allows racial profiling, unless it's part of the suspect's description."
The solution, said Paul Babeau, sheriff of Pinal County, located along one of the major smuggling corridors, is to "document, document, document."
Basically, the video pushes a "You can't do it," message, geared toward first responders.
In order to find cohesion in the chaos, Mann even interviewed Tucson Police Department 30-year veteran Roberto Villaseñor, who does not agree with SB 1070 but declares in the video, "we will uphold the law."
More than 3,800 officers signed the tracking system to certify they'd watched the video. Some watched it via intranet. Others watched it together with their training coordinators. Department heads received their own copies. In eight instances that Mann is aware of, departments or agencies hired a legal expert to watch the video with them and help further explain the law. The Northern Arizona University (NAU) Police Department in Flagstaff was one of them.
NAU Police Chief Greg Fowler, who says his agency already works with Ginn, brought her up from Tucson in a coordinated effort to help train the 200 officers who patrol the country's second largest county (Coconino). He invited agencies in Flagstaff, Sedona, Williams, Page, Coconino County, and the Arizona Department of Public Safety to an auditorium on campus to watch the video and ask the what-if questions not included on film.
"We train together all the time," says Fowler, suggesting it helps keep costs down, especially since AZ POST plans to reimburse Ginn's $1,500 invoice. The other benefit of such a collaboration, he says, is to be able to "enforce the law in the same fashion. We now have an equal understanding of the law."
The training isn't complete yet.
While AZ POST staff and consultants were busy dealing with changes that took place during the video planning and production process, lawsuits against the state piled up—seven at summer's last count, including one filed by the United States Department of Justice, claiming the law's unconstitutionality and asking for an injunction. That would be the one first heard in court—and so far, the only one.
Before SB 1070 had a chance to take effect, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton did, indeed, sign an injunction, but only against the four most controversial parts of the law, those that appeared to preempt federal law, including the sections involving:
_when immigration status can be checked.
_when a person should be carrying immigration or alien registration papers.
_when unauthorized aliens solicit, apply for, or perform work.
Among the portions of the law still in effect:
_Arizona officials, agencies, and political subdivisions cannot limit enforcement of federal immigration laws.
_State officials must work with federal officials when dealing with unlawfully present aliens.
_Legal residents may sue any state official, agency, or political subdivision for adopting a policy of restricting enforcement of federal immigration laws to
less than the full extent permitted by federal law.
_Human smuggling is now a state crime.
_It is now a crime for a motor vehicle to stop and pick up day laborers and for day laborers to get in a motor vehicle if it impedes traffic flow.
One day before the law was to take effect, Scottsdale Police Department issued field orders, stating, "[SPD] employees have been prepared and trained to fully implement SB 1070 prior to the court's ruling. We have extensively reviewed the court's ruling and provided guidance on the enforcement of the remaining provisions to all police personnel.
The July 28, 2010 court ruling substantially leaves current SPD enforcement practices regarding immigration and foreign nationals unchanged. These policies and procedures comply with all of the remaining sections of SB1070 and do not restrict our officers in using their discretion to utilize federal resources when appropriate."
A law in limbo
And Gov. Brewer's office has appealed. The law is now in limbo, held up in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals till the first week of November. Some experts expect the case to wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Though the law is stuck in the court system, Mann says his training is still relevant, since "Most people don't know what this bill does, or why it's there," he says, explaining that it's just as much a struggle about immigration as it is about "union in management."
Mann says some people believe the new law gave local law enforcement additional power, but he says that's not true.
"What it did was direct officers to do what they already could do," he says, adding that the courts did decide that the portion of the bill explaining that was, as one of the governor's lawyers put it, "inartfully written."
This was for officers on the street who felt their chiefs were constraining them from doing their jobs, Mann says, explaining, "Law enforcement will always be able to stop people. The problem with the law as it was written was that it said they had to."
That's the part Villaseñor was concerned about when he filed a declaration and became party to the Department of Justice lawsuit against the state. In his statement, he argues that the new law would remove his ability "to provide guidance and direction to his officers...
"The impact of illegal immigration on Arizona's well-being cannot be denied. But to require local police to act as immigration agents when a lack of local resources
already makes enforcing criminal laws and ordinances a challenging proposition, is not realistic. Our community will suffer as a result, with a decrease in quality of life, and an increase in local mistrust of police," he wrote in his declaration.
Estrada agrees, underscoring the fact that border patrol officers attend 6-8 months of academy training, and police officers received less than two hours of video.
Even though not a single officer was required to watch the 94-minute video, intended for first responders only, Mann says he's pretty sure everybody did and doesn't think it was a wasted effort and acknowledges it wasn't enough.
"But we were able to say some things in that video that we could not have ever said at any other time...because we would have come off sounding preachy," he says, though he also acknowledges a mixed audience of opinions.
Some law enforcement heads, including Mesa Police Chief Frank Milstead and Estrada, continue to be concerned about their relationship with the community, that they won't be able to rely on Hispanics, for one, who feel threatened by this law, to come forward as witnesses when needed.
Those issues were not addressed satisfactorily in the video.
Mann says his agency will continue to review and provide "more training once we figure out what is needed."
None of the controversy, however, is stopping other states from trying to enact similar laws. Utah just introduced its copycat bill, and a delegation of Colorado State Republicans were in Phoenix in August, meeting with Arizona politicians for advice on how to create a similar bill of their own, and also on how to defend it in court if necessary. Americans for Legal Immigration, a national organization focused on fighting against amnesty and illegal immigration, announced in a press release on August 18 that 22 states are also now pushing their own versions of Arizona's SB 1070.
Regardless, Arizona law enforcement agencies statewide plan to be prepared. And since it is likely more immigration bills will touch more states, Arizona has become the guinea pig for how to integrate immigration law into departmental policy and a state the media will continue to watch.
"As the case moves forward," says NAU's Chief Fowler, "we're going to pay attention and monitor the law...We're in a holding pattern until we get more information. When we do, policy will develop."
Phoenix-based Jackie Dishner, author of Backroads & Byways of Arizona, writes about issues involving her state.