Ariz. border patrol face difficulty with deportation calls

Less than half the people Arizona Department of Public Safety officers suspect are in the country illegally are picked up by immigration authorities or booked into jail

By Carli Brosseau
The Arizona Daily Star

TUCSON, Ariz. — A call from local police to the Border Patrol does not necessarily lead to a deportation.

Data from the one Arizona law-enforcement agency that collects comprehensive information on SB 1070's effects spotlights the difficulties the state has had in trying to force change to an immigration regime dominated by federal, rather than local, priorities.

Less than half the people Arizona Department of Public Safety officers suspect are in the country illegally are picked up by immigration authorities or booked into jail, where status is routinely checked.

And not even all those people will be deported. People referred from local police are four times as likely as others taken into Border Patrol custody to be released or plead their case before a judge, data from The Center for Investigative Reporting show.

DPS has done the most complete traffic-stop data collection in the state since it settled a racial-profiling lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union in 2006. Officers began noting suspected unlawful status three years later as part of those changes.

The department again expanded what it collects in September 2012, when SB 1070's requirement that local police try to call immigration authorities if they suspect someone they've detained is unlawfully present took effect.

"Our belief is that if we are going to be an open book, it's very difficult to show you're doing everything if you have no evidence of it," DPS Capt. Jeff King said.

The department had the most robust oversight of any agency the Star reviewed.

Whenever officers click a box for suspicion of unauthorized status on an electronic form, they are prompted to describe how they came to that conclusion, when they made the inquiry, when they heard back and what the outcome was. They are expected to explain their decision if they don't make the call.

In the year after the status-check requirement took effect, supervisors sent back or voided about 4 percent of the forms officers initially turned in, asking for improvement. The reasons for rejection included duplicated forms, too many blanks and, most commonly, inadequate or faulty explanations.

The resulting data provide the clearest picture available of how federal priorities and officers' use of discretion undercut legislators' aim to reduce Arizona's unauthorized immigrant population.

In deciding whether to call immigration authorities, officers considered whether it was rush hour, whether there were other officers nearby and whether immigration officials were likely even to come.

They also weighed how long it would take to cite the driver for the original stop. If an officer writes a ticket for a civil traffic violation such as a broken taillight, the stop rarely takes longer than 10 minutes, leaving no time to request a check, King said.

When officers did call, immigration authorities declined to show up 13 percent of the time. They refused to come most often because of a manpower shortage, a child in the vehicle or the absence of a criminal record.

At least 5 percent of the time, immigration officials took so long responding that officers had to release the person to avoid running afoul of constitutional time limits.

Copyright 2014 The Arizona Daily Star


McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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