The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona is suing for records on an immigration call center local law enforcement officers use to check the immigration status of the people they encounter.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Law Enforcement Support Center has a 24/7 hotline where local, state and federal law enforcement agencies can call to verify a person’s immigration status and identity information.
During fiscal year 2016, the center responded to more than 1.5 million law enforcement requests for information nationwide, according to ICE. The LESC can be used to alert immigration enforcement on whether a person arrested or jailed is undocumented and can be placed in deportation proceedings, but it is also used during routine contacts.
It’s likely that most of the 163 law enforcement agencies in Arizona use the LESC, said ACLU staff attorney Billy Peard.
Peard explained the LESC has two ways of conducting checks — with biometric data, like fingerprints, or biographic information, like names and date of birth. The ACLU is particularly interested on the inquiries made to the LESC with biographic information, he said.
Through a Freedom of Information Act request in September, the ACLU requested training materials, guidelines and protocols on how LESC staff respond to queries on individuals. The ACLU also requested a database on the requests and responses for all cases since January 1, 2010.
ICE hasn’t produced the records, so the ACLU on Wednesday sued ICE and the Department of Homeland Security.
ACLU AZ v ICE LESC (Text)
Peard said the purpose of the records request and the lawsuit is to better understand the collaboration between local police departments and federal immigration authorities.
“The LESC lawsuit is trying to get more information about how that relationship works, in particular when a local police officer in Arizona pulls over a vehicle for a traffic offense and then subsequently calls immigration to check on someone’s immigration status,” Peard said. “The question is whether that prolongs the stop.”
If, during a stop related to a violation of local or state law, there is reasonable suspicion a person is undocumented, law enforcement in Arizona are required to make a “reasonable attempt when practicable” to determine the immigration status of the person.
But law enforcement officers in Arizona can’t prolong a stop, detention or arrest solely for the purpose of verifying immigration status, according to guidance issued by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich in 2016.
Peard said LESC staff have tens of databases available to parse through for each individual call, so the time of response is important.