Wikimedia Commons photo by Duffman
Californians of color who venture to Arizona risk exposure to racial profiling, according to an unusual travel advisory put out this week by the Golden State’s chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The cause for concern – Arizona’s politically polarizing Senate Bill 1070 – is arguably the most aggressive state statute empowering local police to enforce immigration law.
But local police across the Golden State are beginning to undertake immigration enforcement en masse without such legislative action.
In fact, California police agencies have all the tools and authority needed for a Grand Canyon State-style crackdown on illegal immigration.
The law (which isn’t yet in effect and faces myriad legal challenges) forbids “sanctuary” city policies and mandates that local police make a “reasonable attempt” to determine the residency status of people officers have a “reasonable suspicion” are in the United States without permission.
A half dozen California cities are boycotting Arizona for enacting the sweeping anti-illegal immigration legislation.
Local immigration enforcement relies not on state laws, but on a massive database and alleged traffic violations.
The federal Enforcement Case Tracking System – a central database maintaining residency and arrest records on the nation’s immigrants – allows officers to check suspects’ residency status.
That record set is operating in 21 California counties as part of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s “Secure Communities” program. The participating counties include Los Angeles and San Francisco, which have generated much of the loudest opposition to SB 1070.
San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey recently asked to opt out of the federal program; state Attorney General Jerry Brown nixed that proposal.
The most significant criminal justice power behind SB 1070 is that it provides law enforcement with probable cause to stop and question people based solely on possible immigration violations.
Even without that legal justification, police in Arizona and dozens of other states have used different categories of probable cause to catch illegal immigrants – often minor traffic infractions.
Just west of Dallas in Irving, Texas, arrest data shows the number of Hispanics arrested on minor misdemeanors soared 150 percent in 2007 after police there gained access to the ENFORCE database through the Criminal Alien Program, another ICE operation.
The Earl Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity at the UC Berkeley law school last year analyzed the arrest records. The research institute’s findings suggest the database alone changed how officers operate in the field. From its report:
“Our analysis of 2006 and 2007 Irving-arrest data supports the contention that the Irving Police Department racially profiled Hispanics at particular time intervals after the implementation of the Irving CAP program. A sharp upward trend in Hispanic arrests for ‘Class-C’ misdemeanor offenses during phase two of CAP implementation suggests that racial profiling was most aggressive in the period between April and September of 2007. In April 2007, 102 Hispanics were arrested for petty offenses whereas in September 2007, 246 Hispanics were arrested, representing a nearly 150 percent increase.”
The documents do not indicate what prompted the sheriff's deputies to initiate traffic stops in those cases.