Avoiding immigration confrontations, TPD changing turn-over tactics
Last month's immigration protest may have pushed Tucson police to use courts as hand-off points when turning arrestees over to immigration officials. A man arrested Friday after being pulled over for expired tags was released after a hearing Saturday, but immediately taken into federal custody and may face deportation.
On Friday afternoon, around 30 people stood in front of the headquarters of the Tucson Police Department to protest the arrest of another member of the Southside Worker Center.
Alberto Garcia, 31, was pulled over by a TPD officer for driving with expired tags around 10:00 a.m. Friday near 22nd Street and Park Avenue. Because Garcia lacked identification and proof that he was legally in the United States, police arrested him and waited for Customs and Border Protection.
As he was pulled over, Garcia sent a text to the center, alerting community members such as Dévora González, who rushed to the scene to find Garcia under arrest. This has become a significant part the center's mission, operating as a union for immigrant workers and providing services such as legal protection in the event of immigration arrests.
Soon, a Border Patrol truck arrived, but the incident did not unfold as did one last month, when a similar arrest led to an ad-hoc protest that broke only when police used of pepper spray and arrested four demonstrators.
This time the officers packed Garcia in the car and drove to the Westside Police Service Center, 1310 W. Miracle Mile Rd., nearly six miles away, witnesses said.
“We got in the car and just followed them,” said González. “The Border Patrol stayed right behind them the entire time.”
The incident may mark a change in how Tucson police transfer people to Border Patrol under Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, blunting the ability of activists to hinder these arrests as they have since the beginning of the year.
A TPD spokesman said the department would not release a statement on the arrest until Monday.
Under one of the few portions of Arizona's law not struck down by the courts, local police are required to contact federal authorities to determine the immigration status of those they arrest. Those checks are made frequently, a TPD spokeswoman said last month.
In August, 1,151 requests for immigration status were made through the TPD records office, Sgt. Maria Hawke said.
TPD has "no mechanism to track" the total number of immigration checks, she said. The department also does not track the number of checks that result in federal agents requesting officers detain a person for a suspected immigration violation, she said.
Nearly two dozen members of the worker’s center have been arrested in the last year. Some have been returned to their families after a hard push by the community to gather bail money, said Sarah Launius, an activist who works with the center.
“We can put money together for bail, but it can take thousands of dollars,” she said.
On Saturday morning, Garcia was released on his own recognizance for one charge, but was immediately taken into custody by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and transferred to the Eloy Detention Center where he may face deportation proceedings, said González, who attended a court hearing in the case.