Immigration experts from around the country have been asked to offer guidance on the policies being drafted to help Arizona’s police agencies properly enforce the state’s new immigration law – a process those experts say is even more important than the drafting of the law.
Hipolito “Poli” Acosta and Gary Renick, immigration consultants who held high positions in the now-defunct U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, submitted a proposal to help the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board (AZPOST) translate the immigration law into usable guidelines for police agencies and develop a training rubric.
Acosta said his recommendation for Arizona is simple: mirror federal guidelines.
“What we’re proposing is for Arizona to use the same federal criteria for determining reasonable suspicion,” he said.
AZPOST has been tasked by Gov. Jan Brewer to define in day-to-day procedure what reasonable suspicion will mean and how proper immigration status checks will be executed, since the actual meaning or validity of those legal terms only gets defined when they’re challenged in court.
The group has until May 21 to submit the final guidelines to the governor. In the meantime, a group of legal experts has been meeting privately to draw a precise interpretation of the new law, so the training will be consistent with it. The group of legal experts will present their recommendations to AZPOST on May 19 at the group’s regular board meeting.
The federal immigration enforcement procedures for reasonable suspicion require a fair amount of training to understand, Acosta said, but they’ve worked for federal immigration officers for decades.
Acosta said determining when to invoke reasonable suspicion can be difficult, but that by looking at some criteria federal agents used for decades, Arizona’s law officers can learn when, and under what circumstances, to invoke it.
Acosta said that in Arizona, where there’s a large smuggling corridor, if there’s been a lawful traffic stop, an officer may look for a large number of people in the vehicle.
“Maybe they have on clothing that’s way out of character. Maybe everyone is wearing three or four shirts and it’s the middle of summer,” Acosta said. “You have to look at everything around you.”
Bags of clothing made outside the country or documents that appear to have been issued in another country might also tip off an officer, he said.
Acosta said he has faith that police officers will not abuse their authority when it comes to reasonable suspicion, especially given the way lawsuits can easily be brought against agencies, alleging civil rights violations.
“I would seriously doubt that a person in authority would allow an officer to find an excuse to ask someone their citizenship, or check their status,” Acosta said. “I would like to think that the authorities would take this more seriously than that.”
Neville Cramer, another former INS agent who runs a security consulting firm in Arizona and has written a book on the enforcement of immigration policy, also submitted a recommendation to AZPOST.
Like Acosta, Cramer recommended Arizona replicate federal guidelines on how to formally check the immigration status of someone, after establishing reasonable suspicion.
Cramer said federal officers have had to adhere to what he said are precise and specific steps when carrying out the immigration check.
First, Cramer said, an officer would ask a person if they are in the U.S. legally. If the individual in question says they are, the officer would ask them to explain their legal status. The person in question could say they were born in the U.S., that they received citizenship through their relatives, that they have a temporary or permanent legal status or that they’ve been naturalized.
The officer would then take any documents and details the person had and place a call to the Immigration Customs and Enforcement Law Enforcement Support Center in Williston, Vt., where authorities are available at all times to verify immigration status.
“Even is the information isn’t correct or can’t be verified, the officer lets him go and says, ‘Your information didn’t check out, but I’ll check on this later,’” Cramer said.
Even if a person’s immigration status conflicts with the federal database, they can’t be detained, Cramer said, unless they’re a suspect in a crime or if ICE specifically asks for detainment for further investigation, he said.
AZPOST has had its legal staff meet several times during the weeks since S1070 was signed, trying to draw its interpretation of the law’s provisions and turn that into actionable policy. The recommendations from Acosta, Renick, Cramer and others are being considered as they draft the guidelines.
The AZPOST legal staff has kept the substance of the meetings private.
S1070 requires officers to question a person’s immigration status if there’s a reasonable suspicion that he or she is in the country illegally, and makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally.