In a case which proves, once again, that race plays a factor in the way individuals are treated in the justice system of Arizona, an innocent woman was arrested and jailed on the mere suspicion that she was undocumented. An editorial for the Phoenix New Times points out that the woman, Briseira Torres of Glendale, was arrested on three counts of forgery for using her real name and real identification after officials asked her for documentation.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) stated that although Torres used her real driver’s license, officials maintained that she was using a forged document. One of the only witnesses during the proceedings, an investigator, claimed that Torres’s birth certificate had been canceled because it was a forged document, a blatant lie which will probably foment very few consequences for the man in question.
She was held in jail for over four months without bail, a residual effect of the fact that after Prop 100 passed in Arizona, any undocumented immigrant who had committed a violent crime was to be denied bail, period. That frightening legislation was appallingly and loosely applied in this case when a Latino woman was merely suspected of forgery. As a result of her incarceration, she lost her house, her car, and was forced to separate from her 14-year-old daughter who she is raising alone.
Do I even have to mention that Briseira Torres was being held on false charges that no one was willing to investigate in any depth while she withstood the notoriously bad conditions of the detention facility of Estrella Jail? Just a small reminder of the fact that Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the man behind Tent City, is one of the star personalities in detention protocol in Arizona’s history.
Fortunately, two attorneys came to Torres’s aid quickly, Delia Salvatierra and Antonio Bustamente. They provided a statement from Arizona’s Office of Vital Records which forced the MCAO to drop the case, because it proved that her birth certificate was completely legitimate. Why didn’t anyone just go to Vital Records in the very first instance? She was finally released on August 3, but how can her mistreatment be addressed after she was wrongly accused of a crime of which she was innocent? Will the investigator who lied to convict a Latino woman face any charges for lying in a court of law? As Ana Kasparian of The Young Turks points out:
She was born in the United States. They didn’t care. The prosecutor in this situation didn’t even check the long-form birth certificate, right? And the judge who heard this case was like ‘What are you guys doing?’
Torres’ treatment at the hands of the MCAO is a clear example of how racial stereotyping and profiling is an integral part of the way immigration law is applied in Arizona. SB 1070 passed in Arizona back in 2010. The law makes it a misdemeanor not to have documented proof of immigration status on hand at all times. This law also makes it legal for law enforcement to demand proof of citizenship on “reasonable suspicion,” which often means making split-second decisions about the way a person appears to assess their situation.
Jan Brewer and other supporters of SB 1070, along with a whole long list of legislation, argue that the law is not racially motivated, and that racial profiling does not occur. Yet, if Torres’ treatment and the resultant stripping of her human and civil rights doesn’t prove the racially motivated understandings of citizenship and identity in Arizona, then just consider that in July, e-mails were unearthed from former Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce that had clearly racial undertones when discussing the passing of SB 1070.
The editorial for the Phoenix New Times really puts it the most succicntly. Stephen Lemons gives a definition of the term nativism as “[I]ntense opposition to an internal minority on the ground of its foreign (i.e., ‘un-American’) connections.” Briseira Torres was forced into a position of a racially targeted victim at the hands of law enforcement, sealing Arizona’s fate as a laughing stock on the international stage. The incident also shows that those who are supposed to be protecting people from serious crimes, such as murder and assault, are spending their time attacking innocent citizens based on their appearance.