Arizona Racial Profiling Law Threatens Civil Liberties

In response to civil liberties threats caused by the recent passage of Arizona’s racial profiling law, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada issued a travel alert today informing Nevada residents of their rights when stopped by law enforcement when traveling in Arizona. The unconstitutional law, known as SB 1070, requires law enforcement agents to demand "papers" from people they stop who they suspect are not authorized to be in the U.S. If individuals are unable to prove to officers that they are permitted to be in the U.S., they may be subject to warrantless arrest without any probable cause that they have committed a crime.

Although the law is not scheduled to go into effect until July 29, the ACLU of Nevada is concerned that some law enforcement officers are already beginning to act on provisions of the law. Moreover, there has been a history of rampant racial profiling by law enforcement in Arizona, especially in Maricopa County, as well as a stated anti-immigrant policy of “attrition through enforcement” by Arizona lawmakers that creates a hostile environment for Latinos and other people of color.

“Nevada residents need to understand how their constitutional rights will be affected when they cross the state border into Arizona,” said Lee Rowland, Northern Coordinator of the ACLU of Nevada. “Residents of Nevada should be aware that under this law, people are more likely to be stopped for minor infractions like having a broken taillight or jaywalking – or, according to a recent article from the Las Vegas Review-Journal fishing without a license – and then asked for their ‘papers’ largely because they look like they might be undocumented. Arizona's new law is a thinly veiled attempt to institutionalize discrimination, and puts a target on the back of every immigrant and person of color within Arizona’s borders.”

In addition to the travel alert, the ACLU has made available in English and Spanish materials on individuals’ rights if stopped by law enforcement in Arizona or other states as a result of SB 1070 or for any other reason. The materials include a downloadable card with instructions that are applicable in Nevada on coping with vehicle stops and questioning by police, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents or the FBI, as well as a Frequently Asked Questions document about SB 1070.

“The purpose of this advisory is to inform Nevada residents of likely illegal harassment from law enforcement in Arizona and to make sure they know their rights should they encounter it,” said Rowland. “A high proportion of our residents fit the racial profile that police will inevitably use to enforce the law. And, given Nevada’s proximity to Arizona, it is unfortunately very possible that Nevada residents will experience racial profiling and unlawful detentions while traveling in Arizona as a result of this extreme and discriminatory measure.”

The ACLU and other leading civil rights organizations filed a lawsuit challenging the Arizona law in May, but until the law is struck down, the ACLU warns that individuals traveling in Arizona must be aware of their rights if stopped there.