Media Contact

ACLU of Arizona,
Inga Sarda-Sorensen, ACLU National, 212-549-2666,

September 25, 2014


PHOENIX – The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit today in federal court in Phoenix on behalf of an Arizona woman who spent five days in the custody of immigration authorities after a Pinal County Sheriff’s deputy “cited and released” her following a traffic stop, then instructed another sheriff’s deputy to transport her to a nearby Border Patrol station. The lawsuit brings a Fourth Amendment claim against the deputies for prolonging her detention solely based on a suspicion that she was an undocumented immigrant. At the time of her detention, the woman, Maria Cortes, had a pending U-visa application stemming from her status as a victim of domestic violence.

“When the officer who stopped me asked if I had a visa, I offered to show him a copy of my pending U-visa application that I keep in the glove compartment of the car but he said he wasn’t interested in that,” said Ms. Cortes. “They put me in the police car, never told me why they were taking me or where I was going, which really worried me because I didn’t know what would happen to my children—the five days I spent detained were a nightmare for me.”

The incident occurred on September 29, 2012; Ms. Cortes was granted a U-visa less than a year later.

Since the “show me your papers” provision of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law SB 1070 went into effect two years ago, the ACLU has documented numerous cases of racial profiling and illegal detentions by law enforcement officials throughout the state. In Tucson alone, the ACLU has filed several “Notices of Claim” alleging that law enforcement officers regularly engage in racial profiling and illegal detention as a result of the law. This is the first federal lawsuit to challenge application of the “show me your papers” law in Arizona. Today’s case challenges the actions of two deputies of the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, which is headed by Sheriff Paul Babeu. Along with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Sheriff Babeu has been among the most outspoken law enforcement supporters of SB 1070.

“We have argued all along that this law encourages abuse, particularly based on racial profiling of individuals who in the course of a routine stop are presumed to be undocumented simply because of the color of their skin or the way they speak,” said Christine P. Sun, an attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “We continue to find cases of abuse stemming from this law, so we will continue to challenge it.”

Last year, the ACLU took action against the South Tucson Police Department (STPD) on behalf of an individual who was detained by officers without any legal basis and turned over to the Border Patrol. The claim charged false arrest and imprisonment, unreasonable search and seizure and violation of his equal protection under the law. A lawsuit was averted in May of this year after STPD agreed to overhaul the department’s policies with respect to immigration enforcement.