The Border As It Permeates Tucson

TUCSON, ARIZ.– Orlando, undocumented and in his first year of college at Pima Community College, grew up in Tucson from age five. Over the past 13 years, he has seen the shifts not only in the community of Tucson as a whole, but also in his role as an undocumented young person navigating what many in America refer to as an “illegal” life.

He explained that it wasn’t until he was in his early teens that he realized lacking citizenship and documentation meant no travel, restrictions on activities and jobs that may require a social security number, and the need for a heightened awareness of areas and situations to allow for protection of anonymity.

“As a smaller kid you really don’t comprehend as much, but as you start to grow up…you start to realize, ‘Hey, you can’t do this,’” Orlando said. “As the years go by, you just start realizing that you’re really limited by a lot.”

He spent the summer of 2014 working on a farm in Oregon with his older brother. Now having lived in a different state, and one well away from the southwest border, he has a new perspective on the realities ingrained in him and the especially diligent watch of Arizona’s laws and practices regarding immigration.

“It’s sad how I get used to the fear, and I just don’t think about it anymore,” Orlando said. “You get used to the fear of the cop, or Border Patrol.”

The border between the U.S. and Mexico is an isolated entity 45 miles from Tucson, but has a huge and continuing impact on the thousands of undocumented immigrants who live in Arizona and find their daily lives affected by the many stereotypes—particularly crime and drugs—associated with their crossing.

The Department of Homeland Security estimated 360,000 undocumented immigrants living in Arizona in 2011—six percent of the state’s total population. The Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project estimated the city of Tucson’s 2011 Hispanic population—documented and not—to be 347,000, with 23.4 percent of that foreign-born.

While it’s not the Hispanic immigrant population that is new in Tucson, it’s the attention on the border and security as it relates to the burgeoning drug trade and change is migrant profile in the last decade that has shifted the status of immigrants. Before, the population was mainly day laborers—often, men who would come for agricultural seasons and return to Mexico for the off-months. Largely since the turn of the millennium, the shift has moved to families seeking opportunity—often, education for their growing children—and the drug trade as its own entity. With the swing in demographics, new policies—both effective and not—and means of enforcement have taken charge.

Being one of the busiest corridors on the southern U.S. border, the reasoning for intensive focus by Border Patrol, ICE and Tucson Police Department is clear. Arizona joins Georgia and Indiana in specifically prohibiting the extension of in-state college tuition rates to undocumented students. Adding to the list the denial of driver’s license otherwise granted to DACA-protected undocumented youth, and Arizona has a division between the undocumented community and support, and the side of Governor Jan Brewer and her hardline on tough immigration legislation.

For those opposed to undocumented immigration and its community residing in Tucson, many are motivated by the illicit drug trade and intricate networks of cartels working just a few miles south in Mexican territory to move their product into the state for distribution in Tucson and throughout America. According to Border Patrol Agent Scott Stewart, in 2013 Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector seized over 1.1 million pounds of marijuana moving across the border and within the sector.

“2000, that was our biggest year for apprehensions [of migrants] in the whole nation…Although those numbers have significantly decreased since then, the seizures of marijuana have significantly gone up since then, compared to the…early 2000s,” Stewart said. “In the Tucson sector…when [agents are] not involved with the illegal immigration, they have more man power, more…technology-wise…that they can commit to the illicit drugs…that are being crossed.”

While total apprehensions of both trafficked persons and drugs for 2014 was projected at being down from 2013 as of August, the stigma of criminal activity—coupled with the still steady current of such—maintains the arguments for those advocating against undocumented immigrants.

Representation of the majority of undocumented immigrants is often lost as they stand far from the isolated, concentrated criminal networks saturating the American immigration debate.

“It’s like when you look at a white piece of paper, and there’s a black dot. What’s the first thing you’re going to notice?” Orlando said. “You’re not going to say, ‘Oh, it’s a white paper.’ No, you’re going to see a black dot.”

He simplified the issue of racial profiling and negative stereotypes that dominates much of the back and forth in the Tucson community—especially between groups, entities and persons on both sides of the immigration question.

“I feel like I have a [responsibility] to other immigrants,” Orlando said. “If I get arrested, I’m not the only one getting arrested. I’m making my whole community look bad.”

The question of the prevalence of racial profiling has been on the docket in city, state and federal courts for a while, one of the more notable being Arizona Senate Bill 1070, passed in 2010. The state was the first to pass this broad of a crackdown on undocumented immigration through SB 1070—referred to by some as the “Show Me Your Papers” bill.

As explained by Tucson Police Department’s Sergeant Chris Widmer, the bill mandates all police officers contact Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement each time they encounter someone they suspect is in the country illegally, based on a list of potential qualifiers of an undocumented status such as no U.S. driver’s license, no U.S. address, non-English speaking, and so on.

Widmer explained that this requirement extends to traffic stops and other low-level misdemeanors. SB 1070 specifies that police cannot hold someone about whom they have contacted Border Patrol or ICE for longer than it takes to write that person a ticket—and federal authorities often can’t arrive within the time it takes to write someone up for driving through a red light. Widmer provided an estimate of CBP responding to about 1.4 percent of calls Tucson PD made to notify in 2013 of someone an officer suspected of being in the country illegally.

“We’ve always dealt with immigration issues. Before SB 1070, when we came across…someone who was here illegally in the country, we would call Border Patrol from our radios. It wasn’t perceived at the time as so important because I don’t think people realized that we were even doing it,” Widmer said. “Back before that we had our discretion of whether to call Border Patrol or not. When SB 1070 passed, we lost a lot of that discretion.”

Immigration activists, attorneys and immigrants alike deem SB 1070 unconstitutional. The August 2014 arrest and detainment of an undocumented husband and father on a Sunday afternoon, shortly after his second child was born, fueled a week of media and protests on renewed attention to the daily relevance of SB 1070 and its shortcomings.

James Duff Lyall, the Border Litigation Attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union in Tucson, began handling Tucson cases in the summer of 2013. Even at the start of the strong ACLU presence in the city, Lyall spoke to the extensive need for monitoring and accountability of the local police, Customs and Border Patrol and other immigration enforcement entities operating in the Tucson area.

“To have such a massive law enforcement presence operating with very few constraints and little to no oversight or accountability…results in the kinds of [civil rights] violations we see here on a daily basis,” Lyall said, speaking to both alleged racial profiling resulting from SB 1070 and allegations of mistreatment and misconduct by CBP and ICE.

During August of 2013, three years after the passage of SB 1070 and one year after Brewer’s executive order banning driver’s license rights to DACA recipients the day DACA went into effect, the ACLU’s stance on Arizona state laws and handling of immigration was clear.

“Just by virtue of their political disagreement, they’ve singled out this one particular group for special mistreatment which is, in our view, unconstitutional,” Lyall said.

However, Widmer made it clear that Tucson PD officers “have no leverage” in deciding whether to turn someone over to detainment authorities.

“[Activists and protesters] can [stage demonstrations] 50 times in front of our station and they can demand our Police Chief resign, they can demand our Chief of Police change his role or our role in what we do, but the only way for him to do that is to not follow state law,” Widmer said. “We’ve never been in the business of picking and choosing laws, and we can’t start now.”

While in Tucson SB 1070—a state law pertaining to state immigration versus issues directly on the border—is a large focus of residents, the border itself is still less that an hour’s drive away, and that border is a related but very independent issue to SB 1070.

The beast that is the Tucson sector of Arizona’s border with Sonora presents daily challenges compounding the apparent stagnancy on the immigration debate. The border itself falls into the trap of stereotyping, according to Mexican Consul to Tucson Ricardo Pineda Albarran.

“The border is about not only migrants, not only [about] challenges in the field of criminal matters that we have from time to time,” Pineda said. “What we have on the border are 13 million people who connect on each side [every day]. We trade, we visit, and we are exchanging on a general basis daily, hourly.”

Working as an economy itself, it brings both business that is legitimate and business that is illegitimate.

Speaking to the inherent interconnectedness of the border, border security and the border communities—Tucson proper included—Border Patrol Agent Stewart emphasized the placement of outreach programs as sources of intervention breaking the ties between criminal activity over the border and Arizonans.

“We go to the high schools and talk to kids about the dangers of getting involved in drug smuggling. Because we live in border communities, it’s a very real thing…that someone’s going to get offered money to drive a load of drugs to Tucson or Phoenix,” Stewart said. “We want to educate those kids and educate our communities and have that working relationship that we’re there for them, we are here to help make their communities safer and we can all work better together.”


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