Arizona Police Prepare To Enforce Immigration Law

In Arizona, police are getting their first look at the training materials that will help them implement the state's tough new immigration law. NPR's Ted Robbins explains what the training contains, and updates us on the legal challenges to the law.

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Much of the immigration debate lately has focused on Arizona, thanks to the tough new law it passed in April. Unless the courts step in, SB1070, as it's known, goes into effect in a few weeks. It's the law requiring local law enforcement officers to question a suspect's immigration status and arrest illegal immigrants.

As NPR's Ted Robbins reports, those officers are getting ready.

TED ROBBINS: When Arizona governor, Jan Brewer, signed SB1070, she also ordered the state's law enforcement licensing board to create a training program for the officers who will enforce it. Training documents and a video were released today. The video is blunt. It directly confronts the national uproar.

(Soundbite of training video)

Mr. LYLE MANN (Training Board Executive): The entire country is watching to see how Arizona, and particularly Arizona law enforcement responds.

ROBBINS: Training board executive director Lyle Mann tells officers that the way they enforce the law will affect the national debate over immigration.

(Soundbite of training video)

Mr. MANN: This state and each of you have now been thrust onto the national stage and history will be made.

ROBBINS: Instructors try to set the record straight. Reports that police can stop anyone at any time, for instance, are wrong. Attorney Beverly Ginn tells officers they can only use the new immigration law if they stop a suspect for questioning or arrest for another crime. Then...

(Soundbite of training video)

Ms. BEVERLY GINN (Attorney): If you develop reasonable suspicion to believe that a person is both an alien and unlawfully present in the United States, you have a responsibility to make a reasonable attempt, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person who is stopped.

ROBBINS: The video shows officers how to fill out police reports so the immigration charge will hold up in court. Some things could still be open to interpretation, such as whether illegal immigrants must be turned over to federal authorities.

The most controversial aspect of the law, though, is addressed in detail: the question of racial profiling. Over and over again officers are told not to use the color of a person's skin or their accent as a reason to arrest them. Arizona Police Association Executive Director Brian Livingston even tells officers to be defensive, to watch out for activists trying to provoke confrontations over race.

(Soundbite of training video)

Mr. BRIAN LIVINGSTON (Executive Director, Arizona Police Association): I urge you not to use race, not to be baited by the questions that may be posed to you by individuals whose purpose is to find Arizona police officers discriminatory in nature.

ROBBINS: At least one department, Joe Arpaio's Maricopa County Sheriff's, will simply fold the specifics of 1070 into existing programs. Paul Chagoya is deputy chief in charge of training.

Mr. PAUL CHAGOYA (Deputy Chief, Maricopa County Sheriff's Office): We've been performing immigration enforcement for approximately three years now. We've had training from the very beginning.

ROBBINS: For others, this is all new. The Tucson Police Department has done no immigration enforcement. Chief Roberto Villasenor says he'll hold the first of 17 training sessions next week. That's despite Villasenor's vocal criticism of the new law, even saying in the training video it will cause the public to mistrust officers.

(Soundbite of training video)

Mr. ROBERTO VILLASENOR (Chief, Tucson Police Department): Anything that limits our relationship with our community, in my opinion, hurts our efforts as local law enforcement. All that being said, we are obligated to uphold the laws in the state of Arizona and we will do so.

ROBBINS: That's if the law takes effect as scheduled July 29th, the first of several court challenges. A request for an injunction to stop the law will be heard in federal court in Phoenix a week before, on July 22nd.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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