1st lawsuit filed over immigration law enforcement

AP News
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Posted: Sep 25, 2014 6:59 PM

PHOENIX (AP) — A Mexican woman who claims her five-day detention at a federal immigration office was an illegal arrest filed the first lawsuit challenging enforcement of Arizona's landmark immigration enforcement law.

Opponents of the 2010 law have already filed lawsuits that questioned the constitutionality of the law's provisions, but Thursday's filing by Maria del Rosario Cortes Camacho marks a new type of challenge that alleges constitutional violations in how a police agency enforced the law.

Cortes, a domestic violence victim who had applied for a visa allowing her to remain in the U.S. to assist authorities with the case, alleged two Pinal County sheriff's deputies had unreasonably prolonged the length of a September 2012 traffic stop that was prompted by her cracked windshield. She also accuses the officers of making an illegal arrest by bringing her in handcuffs to a Border Patrol office about 13 miles away where she was detained for five days.

"Our deputies took the exact actions as what is required by law," Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said in a written statement.

In the earlier lawsuits over the law, critics said Latinos in Arizona would face systematic racial profiling in the enforcement of the statute and argued that the state law was trumped by federal immigration statutes.

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the Arizona law's most contentious section — a requirement that police, while enforcing other laws, question the immigration status of those suspected of being in the country illegally. But the courts have either struck down or blocked enforcement of other sections of the law known as SB1070, such as a requirement that immigrants carry registration.

While Cortes' case marks the first challenge based on the law's enforcement, several legal claims that serve as precursors to lawsuits have been filed in Tucson and South Tucson, alleging violation in how the law is carried out.

Cortes was pulled over in Eloy, about 65 miles southeast of Phoenix, as she was driving home and told one of the officers about her visa application but he wasn't interested in looking at it, according to the lawsuit. She was cited for having a cracked windshield, driving without a license and failing to show proof of insurance. Cortes was taken to a Border Patrol office in nearby Casa Grande.

The lawsuit alleges the officers violated Cortes' Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures by prolonging the length of her stop after the original purpose of the traffic stop was completed. She alleges the stop was prolonged based on her immigration status.

Dan Pochoda, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, which filed the lawsuit, said the officers didn't understand it's generally not a criminal act for an immigrant without permission to be in the country to remain in the United States, so the deputies' belief that she was here illegally didn't provide constitutional justification for detaining her.

"To say that SB1070 made me do it feeds into some people's worst law enforcement practices," Pochoda said.

Babeu said Cortes acknowledged not being a U.S. citizen, was cited for traffic violations and, as part of enforcing state immigration law, was brought to a federal immigration office so authorities there could determine her immigration status.

Cortes, who didn't allege racial profiling in her lawsuit, is seeking unspecified damages.