Media Contact

Isabel Alegría, American Civil Liberties Union, 415-343-0785,
ACLU of Arizona,

December 18, 2014


PHOENIX – The American Civil Liberties Union obtained a judgment Wednesday against Pinal County, Sheriff Paul Babeu and two Pinal County sheriff’s deputies 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 $25,001 judgment resolves a lawsuit filed by the ACLU in federal district court in September.

“It was a nightmare to spend those five days in detention not knowing what was going to happen to me or my children,” said Maria Cortes, who at the time of her detention had a pending U-Visa application stemming from her status as a victim of domestic violence. “I offered to show the officer who stopped me a copy of my pending U-Visa, but he said he wasn’t interested. I hope something good comes of my terrible experience and that what happened to me never happens again in Pinal County.”

Ms. Cortes claimed that her detention was prolonged solely based on a suspicion that she was an undocumented immigrant, violating her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The incident occurred on Sept. 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 detention by law enforcement officials throughout the state. In Tucson alone, the ACLU has filed several “Notices of Claim” alleging that law enforcement officers have engaged in racial profiling and illegal detention as a result of the law.

Ms. Cortes’ case was the first federal lawsuit to challenge the application of the “show me your papers” law in Arizona.

“SB 1070 encourages officers to presume people are undocumented simply because of the color of their skin or the way they speak,” said Araceli Martinez-Olguin, an attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “We filed suit on behalf of Ms. Cortes to highlight the harm that stems from having a ‘show me your papers’ law on the books. We’re pleased to announce a resolution that provides Ms. Cortes a measure of justice and we hope that individuals who experience racial profiling will continue to report that abuse.”

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.

In addition to Ms. Martinez-Olguin, attorneys for Ms. Cortes include Victoria Lopez, Dan Pochoda and Joel Edman of the ACLU of Arizona, and Donald W. Brown, Alexa Hansen and Aseem Padukone of Covington & Burling LLP.