Nov 16 2012

The facts on the ground in Arizona

Don’t trust, and don’t verify“, would seem to be the motto of authorities in Arizona when it comes to demands for documents and “proof” of citizenship and status — if your skin is brown.

Arizona’s SB1070 requires police, in certain circumstances, to “attempt” to determine your immigration status. But that obligation on the police does not create any obligation on individuals. In its initial decision on SB1070, the Supreme Court made clear that this provision of the law cannot Constitutionally be used as the basis to detain people without some other lawful basis.

Actions on the ground in Arizona, however, suggest that in practice the burden of proof is being placed on (brown-skinned) Arizonans to prove that they are “not illegal”, on pain of prolonged detention on the basis of mere suspicion (and regardless of the weight of the actual evidence).

The Phoenix New Times has been following the case of Briseira Torres.  She was born (at her mother’s home, which the Department of State seems to find inherently suspicious) in Arizona, and her birth was registered (albeit late, as is common for home births) with the Arizona Office of Vital Records.

One doesn’t have to be registered with the government to be born, or to be a US citizen. But that didn’t stand in the way of Arizona and US authorities.  When Torres went to the Federal Building to apply for a passport for her daughter, after submitting a copy of her own birth certificate as evidence of her daughter’s US citizenship by birth, the State Department employees at the passport office called in Arizona state law enforcement officers to help interrogate Ms. Torres.

Eventually, on the theory that the original registration of Ms. Torres’ home birth had been falsified, the Feds turned her over to state authorities, who had her indicted (withholding from the grand jury the state’s official record of her valid birth certificate, and falsely claiming to the grand jury that her birth registration had been “cancelled”)  for fraud.  She was jailed for 4 1/2 months, during which time she was separated from her child and lost her home and car because she couldn’t make the payments on them, before she got a lawyer and the state withdrew the charges.

Now, to try to retroactively justify their deprivation of Ms. Torres’ rights, state officials have initiated a newly-created administrative process to revoke the registration of her birth.

In other words, the state of Arizona wants to “un-birth” Ms. Torres — at age 31.

We’re glad Ms. Torres has a lawyer, and we hope she collects substantial damages from both Arizona state and county officials and the State Department “special agent” who initially detained her, called in the state cops, and eventually turned her over to their custody.

This incident began with Ms. Torres being called in to answer questions about her passport application for her daughter. The role of the Passport Office and other State Department employees shows exactly why we are so concerned about the State Department’s proposed new questionnaire for passport applicants.

Government “un-birthing” of citizens isn’t the only strange thing going on in Arizona, unfortunately.

At the Deconcini border crossing between the central business districts of Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, US Customs and Border protection is requiring some “trusted travelers” to submit to interrogation by allegedly lie-detecting robots developed (with DHS grant money, we presume) by the National Center for Border Security and Immigration at the University of Arizona.

If the robot thinks you are lying, “a more through interview would follow”, according to news reports.

But Ms. Torres’ example shows that if a human Fed in Arizona thinks you are lying about your papers, they will detain you and turn you over to the state of Arizona to be locked up without bail for months, without bothering even to look at your actual papers (not that you have to have any “papers” in the first place to be born or have rights).

In that light, we hope courts will look skeptically at the legality of prolonging the detention of a border crosser based on the statement of a semi-anthropomorphic animated robot that, “I think you are lying.”