Seventh suit filed over Ariz. immigration law

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 12, 2010

PHOENIX (AP) — A seventh challenge to Arizona’s tough new immigration crackdown says training materials designed to teach police officers how to enforce the law give ‘‘vague and ill-defined factors’’ as reasons to question someone’s legal status.

Officers aren’t supposed to use a person’s race to determine whether there’s reasonable suspicion they’re in the country illegally.

But the lawsuit, filed Friday in federal court, says the training materials developed by state police bosses allow officers to rely on things like whether a person speaks poor English, looks nervous or is traveling in an overcrowded vehicle. They can also take into account whether someone is wearing several layers of clothing in a hot climate, or hanging out in an area where illegal immigrants are known to look for work.

That will lead to ‘‘widespread’’ racial profiling of Hispanics, the lawsuit says.

‘‘It’s like having a law that tells police to go out and arrest all children but to not use the fact that a person looks like a child,’’ Los Angeles-based attorney Peter Schey, lead counsel for the plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit, said Saturday.

‘‘Rather than training police officers about who is and who is not really deportable, the training materials focus on vague and ambiguous factors, such as a person’s dress or limited ability to speak English or demeanor, whatever that means,’’ Schey said. ‘‘An average law enforcement officer using those standards is inevitably going to focus on a person’s physical appearance or race while being sure not to say that in his or her report.’’

Schey estimated that 2 million of the nation’s roughly 12 million illegal immigrants are not eligible for deportation because they’re in the process of seeking legal status.

The Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, which developed the training materials, did not return a phone call seeking comment Saturday. Spokespeople at the office of Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the law April 23 and ordered the board to develop the training materials, also did not return a call seeking comment.

The law, set to take effect July 29, already faces legal challenges from two police officers, other groups and the U.S. Justice Department, which says the law usurps the federal government’s ‘‘pre-eminent authority’’ under the Constitution to regulate immigration.

The law’s backers say Congress isn’t doing anything meaningful about illegal immigration, so it’s the state’s duty to step up. They object to social costs and violence they say are associated with illegal immigration.

The latest lawsuit’s filers, including the League of United Latin American Citizens, expect it to be heard by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, who is hearing the six other legal challenges. Bolton said this week that she is making no promises to rule on the lawsuits before the law takes effect.

The enforcement guidelines being challenged were adopted by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board and will be distributed to all 15,000 Arizona police officers.

Police departments will decide the best way to teach their forces. There is no requirement that all 15,000 Arizona police officers complete the training before the law takes effect.

The new law generally requires officers enforcing another law — like speeding or jaywalking — to question a person’s immigration status if there’s a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the country illegally.