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Southside church condemns detention of family by Border Patrol after traffic stop

A traffic stop over a car's tinted windows by an Arizona Department of Public Safety trooper led to the detention of four people, including a 12-year-old girl, by U.S. Border Patrol agents during an incident recorded on social media Tuesday. 

Captured on a Facebook Live feed, the incident reflects the complex overlapping roles of local and state policing, even as piecemeal provisions of Arizona's controversial anti-immigrant law SB1070 remain in effect, and an effort to make Tucson a "sanctuary city" could be gaining traction.

In live video posted to Facebook around 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, a DPS trooper stopped a black four-door sedan at West 22nd Street and South 9th Avenue, and detained a man, his wife, and their 12-year-old daughter. The DPS trooper told bystanders and members of the Southside Workers Center that he was waiting for Border Patrol to arrive. As the video continued, the agent arrived and after a series of conversations, began placing three members of a Tucson-area family into his vehicle. 

As the agent, identified only by his nametag as B. Bowthorpe waited for the woman to get a hoodie and make phone calls, a man placed himself beneath the agent's vehicle in an attempt to keep him from driving away. He was later arrested by Border Patrol.

The incident captured the attention of thousands of people. One Facebook video of the family's arrest had nearly 18,000 views, and a GoFundMe set up to cover a $15,000 bond for the family has received more than $6,600. 

On Wednesday afternoon, more than 130 people gathered just blocks away in the kiva-style sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church to decry the agency's detention of the family, and to press for a public campaign to convince officials at Border Patrol to release them. 

Border Patrol did not release the names of those arrested, but local immigrant-rights activists said they were Glenda de la Vega Fernandez, Jesus Antonio Torres, and 12-year-old Dariana Torres de la Vega. The family has lived in Tucson for 11 years, with their two other children, ages 10 and 6, they said. 

While four separate law enforcement agencies became involved, the agency that began the incident would not comment on why a DPS trooper decided to hold the family and contact Border Patrol. 

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DPS didn't respond to TucsonSentinel.com's questions about the incident until Thursday.

Trooper Kameron Lee said that the 2017 Dodge Charger was pulled over around 1:50 p.m. Tuesday for "illegal window tint."

"The vehicle was not registered to either of the adult occupants, and a DPS vehicle theft task force detective was called to help determine if the vehicle was stolen," Lee said.

"The female driver provided documents inconsistent with the vehicle’s registration as well as foreign identification the trooper suspected may have been potentially fraudulent," the DPS trooper said. "A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer was called to help determine the authenticity of the foreign identification. Once it was determined the vehicle was not stolen, the driver was issued a civil traffic citation."

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Tucson Sector said that a DPS trooper "conducting a vehicle stop for a traffic violation" at the intersection "requested that Tucson Sector Border Patrol respond to investigate." 

"The three individuals, a father, mother, and their 12-year-old daughter, [were] arrested for being illegally present in the United States," the spokesman said. They "remain together in Border Patrol custody as they are processed for immigration violations." 

The spokesman also said that the agent called for backup and several more agents "arrived at the scene," along with a deputy from the Pima County Sheriff's Department and officers with the Tucson Police Department. 

"As the group grew in number, the agent called for assistance and additional Border Patrol agents arrived at the scene," the spokesman said. "After agents placed the three occupants of the vehicle in custody for immigration violations, agents arrested an adult male after he laid under the agent’s vehicle to prevent it from moving. Agents were able to depart the scene without further incident." 

The spokesman added that the bystander, identified only as a "the adult male" was later released. 

PCSD Deputy James Allerton said that around 3:45 p.m. a deputy was "requested to assist with scene security on a traffic stop, which had been conducted by DPS." 

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"The deputy remained on scene while DPS and the U.S. Border Patrol conducted their investigation. No further law enforcement action was taken by our deputy," he said. 

Frank Magos, a spokesman for TPD, said that officers responded to a request for assistance, but that officers took "zero action" during the incident. 

DPS stop a rare opportunity

Jessica Rodriguez, the coordinator of the Southside Workers Program, based at the church said that Tuesday's arrest was a rare chance for community workers to see a DPS trooper stop someone and call Border Patrol. 

DPS troopers usually stop people on highways, where activists cannot intervene, she but this time, the arrest occurred in neighborhood and a "rapid response" network allowed activists to arrive quickly and begin recording. 

This was the second of two similar incidents in just the last few weeks, she said. Patty Muñoz was stopped by Border Patrol agents near Ajo Way and detained following a traffic stop. After she was detained, Muñoz was sent to a private-prison operated under contract by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement near Eloy, Ariz., for a night, but was released on bond after the activist network was able to put together $12,000. 

Rodriguez also disputed Border Patrol's statement that the family was kept together while in detention. "We know they separated the girl from her mother last night. The girl slept alone in the hielera,” Rodriguez, using the Spanish word for "icebox," a common term used by agents and immigrants alike for the agency's detention cells. 

Rev. Allison Harrington, the pastor of Southside Presbyterian, said she was leaving church when she saw the arrests, and went to intervene on the "heartbreaking" situation. In the live video recorded by Rodriguez, Harrington repeatedly asks the DPS trooper why he's holding the family. 

As Harrington spoke, nine children whose parents were detained in the past week, held signs. One girl, asked to "help me stay with my Mom," while a boy's sign asked officials "Don't deport  our dreams." One boy in the center of the group, too young to write, stared at a cluster of cameras while his poster-board was a swirl of yellow marks. 

Harrington said that the community should "demand the immediate reunification and release of Glenda, Jesus, and Dariana." 

"Every day, we talk about the devastation caused to families and to our communities by the machinery of deportations — sometimes it can become an abstract nightmare, and then every so often you witness it with your very own eyes," she said. 

"You see the weeping mother telling her child ‘don’t cry’ as they are led into a Border Patrol vehicle. You see the devastation of a father as he is handcuffed," Harrington said.

"And you see the other members of the family begin to arrive on the scene with tears streaming down their faces. You see the two little boys, the other children of Glenda and Jesus, running towards the Border Patrol vehicle crying, witness to their parents and big sister being taken away, left clinging to other family members, weeping, inconsolable.”

Harrington also called refusing to release the family a "moral failure" 

"Let us be very, very clear with the Border Patrol—with each individual who sits in there in that Border Patrol station—failure to release them can only be called a moral failing, and an act of sin, not only against this family, but against god who calls on us to love a stranger as we love our neighbor," she said. 

History

While Tucson has often framed itself as an "immigrant-welcoming" community, and repeatedly limited how local police can work with Border Patrol and ICE, the city's inclusion in a zone within 100 "air miles" of the U.S.-Mexico border has made it easier for Border Patrol to enforce immigration and drug laws. 

In 2013, a similar scene devolved after Tucson police pulled over two men near Southside Presbyterian and called in Border Patrol. Dozens of people arrived to protest, surrounding a Border Patrol vehicle by linking their arms together in a human chain until they were dispersed by police using pepper spray. 

"From our perspective this is common and happens under the radar screen,” said Billy Peard, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona. “Other agencies may be involved in stops like this, but DPS is a frequent flyer.” 

He said that he didn't know the details of the arrests, yet, but that the trooper could have used the fact that the car had tinted windows to make a pre-textual stop, using a non-racial reason to "articulate" why he made the stop, or the trooper may be under the "misapprehension" that he needed to call Border Patrol. 

In the video, the DPS troopers told a witness: "I don't have nothing. I'm done, I'm just waiting." 

"Waiting for what?" asked someone in the crowd. 

"To get them and take them for the window tint," the trooper replied. 

“We don’t know that he gratuitously called Border Patrol, rather he may be under the misapprehension” that under Arizona’s SB1070, he is “required to do this,” the ACLU attorney said.

Peard noted that in 2001 DPS was sued by the ACLU, alleging that the agency "engaged in a continuing pattern and practice of race-based traffic stops, detentions and searches of non-Caucasian motorists." Two years later, in 2003, DPS and the ACLU entered into a settlement agreement in an Arizona court. While DPS refused to admit to violations of the U.S. Constitution, the agency agreed to record stops with video and audio, provide search forms in Spanish as well as English, train DPS troopers on racial profiling, and collect data on traffic stops.

"We need reinforcement, we need witnesses," said Rodriguez during a second shorter video. "This is how they tear families apart, they use a traffic stop and now they have the child, the mom, and the dad in the Border Patrol truck." 

As Rodriguez spoke, more police vehicles arrived. "They're taking a family because of a traffic ticket, a traffic ticket," said Rodriguez, audibly emotional as she continued to walk along the sidewalk recording the scene. 

Later, in the video, a witness asked the agent,"This is routine?" 

The agent shook his head affirmatively and said: "As many times as required." 

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Click image to enlarge

Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Family friend, Dennice Sanchez speaks to a crowd at Southside Presbyterian Church with Paulina Ramirez, the sister-in-law of Jesus Antonio Torres, who was detained along with his wife and daughter by Border Patrol following a traffic stop on Tuesday afternoon.

“They’re taking a family because of a traffic ticket, a traffic ticket.”

— Jessica Rodriguez

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