Civil Dis(obedience)course 101

Activists and TPD clash once again, forcing Tucson to rethink if it really is an immigrant welcoming city

What does it take for Tucson to live up to its self-professed title, made official by the Tucson City Council in August 2012, as an immigrant welcoming city, when the Tucson Police Department continues to call Border Patrol during routine traffic stops?

It's a question immigration reform activists have been asking for some time, but especially at a Wednesday, Oct. 9 press conference after an incident on the night of Tuesday, Oct. 8, when two men, Agustin Reyes and Arturo Robles, were stopped when the TPD officer noticed the license plate light wasn't working on the car. Although eventually released on bail, Reyes and Robles were detained, along with community leader Rosa Leal and activist Mari Galup.

But what occurred that night wasn't just another example of the division and problems further caused by SB 1070 and the lack of immigration reform, but an act of "spontaneous civil disobedience," as described by Southside Presbyterian Church member Leslie Carlson, during the church's annual Migrant Sunday service on Sunday, Oct. 13.

Immigration issues and activism aren't new for the church and its congregants, which became the first local church to declare itself a sanctuary during the movement of the same name more than 30 years ago when the church was led by now retired pastor John Fife. The church is also home to the Southside Workers Center, managed by immigration reform organizer Raúl Alcaraz Ochoa.

But what occurred on Tuesday was certainly all about geography. Traffic stops by TPD that result in calls to Border Patrol happen all the time—two have resulted in Alcaraz Ochoa doing one-man acts of civil disobedience laying under Border Patrol vehicles this past year. This time, the stop occurred almost at Southside's door, which resulted in church members, other activists and Barrio Ochoa residents working together to prevent the call to Border Patrol and then prevent people from being detained.

City Councilmember Regina Romero has called for a council study session Wednesday, Nov. 13 to discuss SB 1070 and what the city could do, perhaps getting TPD Chief Roberto Villaseñor and immigration activists like Alcaraz Ochoa to sit down again, and figure out if changes in city and police policy are possible.

In front of her congregation on Sunday, Oct. 13, Alison Harrington's sermon happened to coincide with the church's annual Migrant Sunday service, remembering migrants who've died in the desert each year on the other side of the Mexico border.

As the church pastor read from Ezekiel on the "valley of dried bones," a table in the center of church's kiva held 173 rocks with the names of those found in the desert with the date their body was found. If they remain unidentified, desconcidos is written rather than a name.

"As you know I was in Washington this week, if there was ever a valley of dried bones," Harrington said.

Harrington, in D.C. as part of the Church World Service Global Summit on immigration reform, said it was interesting to see how the protest was organized—D.C. police were called by organizers beforehand and asked about capacity and people were asked to volunteer to be arrested once they sat in the middle of a road and refused to move, and those arrested were told how much to carry in their pockets for bail money.

"I was proud to be arrested," Harrington said, but she realized it was a completely different act of civil disobediance taking place back home that same night.

Carlson said that Tucson activist Stephanie Quintana came into the church during an End Streamline Coalition meeting and told members what was going on down the street.

Carlson and others, including retired Southside pastor Fife, went out to help. Fife asked for the officer's supervisor and had explained that according to SB 1070 the two men detained could not be held for Border Patrol to arrive any longer than the time it takes to write a ticket. Carlson said Alcaraz Ochoa recommended they surround Border Patrol vehicles.

"After a few minutes it dawned on me that there was a Samaritan meeting happening at the church," Carlson said, so she went back to get more people and they formed two circles around the border patrol trucks. After 20 minutes, Carlson said Border Patrol started to shove people out of the way. Someone came up to the group and said they had taken church member Rosa Leal (who has an Arizona driver's license) in another truck around the corner, so members and others headed to that truck to prevent it from being moved, Carlson said.

At that point, she said TPD officers then began using pepper spray on those surrounding the car and another officer took out what looked like a semi-automatic gun firing on the crowd, Carlson said, adding that it was terrifying because no one knew what was being used until Villaseñor said at a press conference on Wednesday, Oct. 9 that it was pepper spray pellets not bullets or even rubber bullets.

At the TPD press conference, Villaseñor explained a similar scenario and explained that SB 1070 is a state law and he is forced to uphold that law. Before the law was passed, he publicly spoke out against it and had predicted it would do exactly what he sees happening now—rip apart the community and pit citizens against the police. Villaseñor said there are areas of the law that aren't clearly defined, but his officers, if they suspect someone is undocumented, will continue to call Border Patrol in order to determine if they are undocumented.

Villaseñor said the officers were Latino and speak Spanish, and therefore no racial profiling took place. His hands are tied by the law, he said.

Romero said she wants to see policies discussed at a Nov. 13 study session, even if the city attorney is telling the council not much can change.

"We cannot tell the chief how to do his job," Romero said, "but we can tell the city manager this is how we feel about this issue or policy."

In declaring the city an "Immigrant Welcoming City," last year, it's obvious how the city council members see Tucson, Romero said, but now it's time to have a discussion on policy changes. "The incidents of what happened really erodes the trust of the community."

Romero said she is encouraging Villaseñor and others like Alcaraz Ochoa to sit down with the mayor, council and city manager to have a discussion that could lead to how TPD handles these stops, perhaps releasing people if Border Patrol doesn't arrive by the time a citation is issued.

Tucson City Councilmember Steve Kozachik said he agrees with Villaseñor—that the chief's hands are tied when it comes to how it responds and works under the confines of SB 1070, that Kozachak describes as another poorly written law produced by state lawmakers.

"It is absolutely an unattainable position," Kozachak said, adding that perhaps a "catch and release" could work and also not calling Border Patrol on undocumented youth.

Alcaraz Ochoa said he's not convinced because as long as Border Patrol and ICE continue to be contacted by TPD, Tucson will never live up to being an immigrant welcoming city.

These latest acts of community civil disobedience "are exposing and magnifying how local law enforcement is choosing to enforce SB 1070 in a way that infringes on the civil and constitutional rights of the community," he said.

"Villaseñor says his hands are tied, but the language in the law never says they have to call Border Patrol and clearly they are doing this through racial profiling because it's not happening to white families."