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US: Student's Arrest Sparks Family's Deportation

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A high school student and his family were deported after school officials found marijuana in his backpack and called Tucson police, who notified the Border Patrol after learning the family was here illegally. The incident caused concern among immigrant rights advocates, but Tucson police officials say the officer acted appropriately in calling Border Patrol agents to the school.

On Thursday, police responded to Catalina High after school officials found a small amount of marijuana in the backpack of a ninth-grader who appeared to be under the influence, said Chyrl Hill Lander, Tucson Unified School District spokeswoman..

Police asked the boy's parents to come to the school. When the officer asked to see the drivers' licenses of the boy's parents, they said they had been living illegally in the United States for six years and that their 17-year-old son and his brother, a 12-year-old sixth-grader, were also here illegally, said Roberto Villasenor, assistant Tucson police chief. The officer called the Border Patrol, which sent agents to the school, said Richard DeWitt, Tucson Sector spokesman. They took the boy and his parents into custody and escorted the family from the school, Lander said. From there, they went to Doolen Middle School, where the couple's younger son was waiting in the principal's office when the officer and agents arrived, she said. The mother and two boys were processed and dropped off at the border by the Border Patrol to return to Mexico in a procedure called voluntary return. The father was held for a formal removal - formerly known as a deportation - because he had been apprehended various times by the agency, DeWitt said. Their names were not released.

Police officials and the union said the officer handled the case correctly.

The boy had committed a crime, and the department's policy allows officers discretion to call the Border Patrol when they suspect someone they encounter is here illegally, Villasenor said. "We can't lose track of the fact that an administrator came across a juvenile who was violating the law, in possession of marijuana," Villasenor said. "That is a crime in this country, whether you are here illegally or not." But immigrants' rights groups say allowing immigration officials into schools could create distrust and fear in the immigrant community. TUSD officials said police should have waited to call immigration agents.

"We would have preferred that they called Border Patrol once they left the campus," said Lander, who was unaware of any other apprehensions made by the Border Patrol at TUSD schools. "There were rumors that it was a raid."

A long-standing police policy that was most recently reviewed in May prohibits officers from stopping anyone "merely on suspicion that the person is present in the United States illegally." However, if after a stop for other reasons the officer believes the person is here illegally, the officer can ask immigration officials to come to the scene. Officers have discretion on a case-by-case basis on whether to call immigration authorities, Villasenor said. If Border Patrol agents can't respond or if it takes them too long to arrive, police officers can fill out a field interview form and release the person, according to the policy.

Reasonable suspicion is established if someone can't show a U.S. driver's license or immigration documentation, or sometimes an admission, which was the case with the boy's parents at Catalina High, Villasenor said. It cannot be based solely on skin color, he said.

"It's not reasonable to think that every Latino or Hispanic person is an illegal alien; that is not a reasonable suspicion," Villasenor said. "There has to be something much more than that." Villasenor said the Police Department doesn't want crime victims or witnesses who are here illegally to fear coming forward because they might be deported. The department isn't interested in its officers becoming immigration agents, either, he said. "While we don't want to put a chilling effect on anyone calling us, we are also obligated to do our job," Villasenor said. The Tucson Police Officers Association supports the policy, said union President Larry Lopez. It shouldn't matter where the crime is committed, he said. "It doesn't matter if it's a school, a bank or grocery store; if they get called, they are going to respond," Lopez said.

The incident could have wider implications, said an immigrant rights advocate.

"Now you have people who are afraid to call the police when they have been robbed because they are afraid the police will come and instead of investigating the crime will ask them about their immigration status," said Jennifer Allen, director of Tucson-based Border Action Network.

Source: Arizona Daily Star
Copyright: Arizona Daily Star 2007
Contact: bmccombs@azstarnet.com
Website: Family deported after boy's arrest at school | www.azstarnet.com ®
 
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