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Arizona immigrant rights organizers fight racial profiling

By Jim Byrne

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Tucson, AZ – On Aug. 10, Tucson Police (TPD) pulled over Norlan Flores Prado, a day laborer from Nicaragua, for allegedly making an improper right turn. Tucson Police then did exactly what they claim not to: they contacted the Border Patrol. Immediately, nearly 50 activists mobilized into action and flooded the scene. Two women threw themselves under the unmarked government SUV in which Flores was detained. Amid chants of “La Migra, policia, la misma porqueria!” the police and Border Patrol were forced to extract the two activists from underneath the vehicle in order to proceed with the bogus arrest.

In Arizona the law is so ill defined, that Chicanos, American Indians, Mexicans and Latinos, are regularly stopped with no legitimate reason. The law states, “...where reasonable suspicion exists that a person is an alien...” That is the legal justification for racial profiling in Arizona and because of this discriminatory law, a working father of a three-day-old baby is now separated from his family.

Less than 24 hours after the attempt to stop the unmarked Border Patrol SUV, the community mobilized over 80 people in support of the detained immigrant worker Flores Prado. The crowd swarmed the front walk of the Tucson Police Department demanding the immediate release of Flores and an end to TPD-Border Patrol collaboration. Friends and family held signs saying, “Alto a la Poli-Migra” and “Ni un mas.” The fiercely determined crowd chanted, “No somos ilegales, tampoco criminales! Somos trabajadores de pueblos originales!”

A member of the Southside Worker Center spoke at the rally saying, “These laws are unconstitutional. They are based on racial discrimination. We will keep fighting these!” This was the second demonstration at Tucson Police Department in less than a week to protest the detention of a Southside worker due to the collaboration of Tucson Police with the Border Patrol. The momentary celebration of the release on bond of Gerardo Ruiz-Lopez, a father of three daughters, was overshadowed by the detainment of Flores.

In Arizona, the oppression of undocumented people and other nationalities is being met with resistance and a back-and-forth struggle over tactics and countermoves. For example, organizers developed a network of community responders that arrive to a scene where TPD has contacted Border Patrol. Border Patrol is attempting to outmaneuver the activists by using unmarked vehicles and an unidentified agent.

Organizers and activists have talked with Police Chief Roberto Villasenor and the Tucson City Council about TPD’s collaboration with Border Patrol. Immigrant rights activist Dean Jefferson explains, “This is a deportation apparatus desperate to meet quotas based on a racialized agenda.”

Organizer Geoff Boyce provided details, “Villasenor denies that his officers collaborate with Border Patrol by saying that there are no records on cell phones of calls made by TPD to Border Patrol. But how is it that time and time again Border Patrol is at the scene of a supposed traffic violation by a Brown person? Clearly, TPD is now using private cell phones to call Border Patrol. They’re trying to dodge our pressure. But we will keep it up.”

Adding to the sentiment of sustained resistance, activist and mother Angie Loreto said, “We need to put the heat on Villasenor. He never wants to come out and meet us. We need to make him feel the pressure that our undocumented families feel every day.”

Despite an ACLU effort that forces the sheriff to report on calls to Border Patrol, activists are holding the city accountable to its own slogan. Summing up much of the institutional inaction, activist-educator Alisha Maria commented: “The fact that Tucson City Council has declared the city an ‘Immigrant Welcoming Community’ is offensive. It’s a slap in the face to all of those hardworking people who endure harsh conditions just to get here and face heavy oppression and exploitation. People don’t like to get slapped. Slap them enough and they’ll slap back.”

Protesters vow to improve their rapid action network. They aim to stop the racial profiling, end the intimidation tactics used by the police to harass drivers and workers and to stop the deportations.

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