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ACLU issues travel warning for Arizona

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ACLU issues travel warning for Arizona

Rights group cites SB 1070 in warning travelers

  • J. Stephen Conn/Flickr

It's usually the U.S. State Department that issues travel advisories, warning Americans about traveling in dangerous foreign lands like Afghanistan or, say, Mexico.

But Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union began issuing travel advisories warning about trips to Arizona in advance of the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

32 of the ACLU's state offices - including Arizona's - are telling travelers to beware SB 1070. The Arizona branch urged travelers to report any racial profiling complaints to them.

"ACLU of Arizona has already received complaints from people who believe they were profiled by law enforcement because they look "foreign." Since April, the ACLU of Arizona has received a steady increase in reports involving individuals who were asked to confirm their identity or citizenship status," said a news release from the state office.

"In Arizona, SB 1070 has caused relations between community members and police to go from bad to worse," said ACLU of Arizona Executive Director Alessandra Soler Meetze in the release. "Two of the largest police departments in the state – DPS and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office – have  had to defend against accusations of racial profiling in Court.  On top of that, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for suspected civil rights violations."

"California residents need to know their rights and the dangers of traveling to Arizona before setting foot there. This disturbing new law makes it much more likely that a police officer will demand a person deemed "foreign" to present "papers" for the smallest of infractions, as simple as a broken taillight or jaywalking," said Hector Villagra, legal director for the Southern California branch of the civil rights organization, in a news release.

"Even though the law won't go into effect until the end of July, Arizona's history of racial profiling and the wild-frontier antics of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arapaio give reason to believe that at least some state or local police officers will feel emboldened to act on the law before its time. The ACLU wants you to be prepared for such circumstances — especially this weekend, as the summer travel season hits its stride," said the advisory by the New Mexico ACLU.

The ACLU's actions proved how "hopelessly out of touch they are," Gov. Jan Brewer's spokesman said in a statement.

"The legislation includes very specific language that makes it abundantly clear that racial profiling is and will continue to be illegal in Arizona," said Paul Senseman.

"Instead of spreading fear, hate, and disinformation about the legislation, it would be helpful for the ACLU to instead join Gov. Brewer's demand that the federal government stop discussing and begin implementing an honest plan to secure our nation's border."

SB 1070, as amended by HB 2162, says that law enforcement "may not solely consider race, color or national origin in implementing the requirements of this subsection except to the extent permitted by the United States or Arizona Constitution."

Courts have previously held that limited forms of profiling suspects by race or ethnicity are constitutionally valid.

"We hope the alerts provide people with some measure of protection from illegal harassment from law enforcement and inform them of their rights should they encounter it," said the ACLU's nation executive director, Anthony D. Romero, in a news release.

"Our goal is to protect Arizona residents from misconduct by law enforcement, and to make sure they know their rights should they be subject to it," said Meetze.

"Unfortunately, we're already hearing stories about individuals being harassed by police based on their accent, appearance, or where they come from.  It is important for people to understand that they have the right to politely decline additional questioning, to refuse a consent search, and to ask to speak to an attorney. These rights are not just reserved to citizens of this country but are available to everyone."

In addition to the warning, the country's top civil rights group has posted a "know your rights" card on its website.

The "bust card" contains information on dealing with vehicle stops and questioning by law enforcement.

ACLU branches in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Northern California, Southern California, San Diego & Imperial Counties, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas and Western Missouri, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Eastern Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming are issuing the travel warnings.

SB 1070 is scheduled to take effect July 29, barring a court challenge that may stay the law.

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