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‘Papers, Please’ Law in Arizona to Be Clarified

(CN) — Civil rights groups agreed to drop their challenge to Arizona's controversial "papers please" provision of its immigration law in exchange for the state issuing informal guidelines on how officers should enforce the law.

The informal opinion released by the state attorney general's office includes cautions against racial profiling and reminds officers that they cannot detain anyone longer than necessary to question whether they are in the United States legally.

Thursday's announcement comes as part of a settlement with the National Immigration Law Center and other immigrants' rights groups that sued the state after the passage of Senate Bill 1070 in 2010, which required officers to question the immigration status of people they stopped regardless of the reason.

As part of the settlement, groups have agreed not to appeal last year's decision by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, who found that Latinos making up most of the foreign-born and undocumented population in Arizona is not enough to prove that SB 1070 would be more harmful to Latinos.

"Plaintiffs have admittedly not produced any evidence that state law enforcement officials will enforce SB 1070 differently for Latinos than a similarly situated person of another race or ethnicity," Bolton wrote, calling the law racially neutral.

Bolton's decision fell in line with the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2012 left in place three sections of the law including the "papers please" provision.

The Supreme Court found at the time that it was unclear whether police officers asking for immigration papers would be unconstitutional because the law had not yet taken effect.

Thursday's settlement includes a $1.4 million payment of legal fees by the state and an informal opinion from the Arizona Attorney General's Office setting guidelines for officers when they encounter people who may be in the United States illegally.

The opinion dictates that officers cannot use race or ethnicity to develop reasonable suspicion that someone is unlawfully present in the United States and cannot stop people solely to investigate immigration status.

Officers are now required to document the reasons for their suspicion that a particular person is here illegally.

The guidelines further forbid officers from prolonging traffic stops and detentions solely for the purpose of verifying a person's immigration status. If officers suspect that a person is here illegally, they may still contact U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement unless doing so would prolong the stop.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich emphasized that the agreement still allows officers to question people about their immigration status.

"We have succeeded by keeping the key provisions of SB 1070 in place. Our goal while negotiating this settlement was to find a common-sense solution that protects Arizona taxpayers while helping our great state move forward," Brnovich said.

Opponents of the law applauded the settlement as a step in the right direction.

"Arizona blazed a trail of mean-spirited policies intended to starve and isolate immigrants six years ago, and many states followed this flawed path," said Victor Viramontes, senior counsel for Mexican American Legal Defense.

"After millions of dollars spent on lawyers, multiple federal decisions blocking key provisions of the law, and finally a state-issued opinion severely constraining local law enforcement, Arizona's policies have failed to serve anyone living in Arizona," he said.

SB 1070 — formally titled Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Acts — was signed by then-Gov. Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010.

It contained four major elements aimed at reducing the number of undocumented immigrants in the state, including compelling police to ask for papers and allowing officers to arrest a person without a warrant if the officer believed the person had committed an offense that made them deportable.

The law, which garnered positive and negative attention nationwide, also made it a crime not to carry registration papers or for undocumented immigrants to solicit work.

Most of the statutes were blocked in Federal Court.

The opinion released by Brnovich on Thursday is informal, so it cannot be used to bring actions against officers who do not follow the guidelines.

Karen Tumlin, legal director of the National Immigration Law Center, said that while the agreement marks an end to a hard-fought legal battle, vigilance is key to "ensure that local law enforcement doesn't violate these important protections."

She added, "A recognition of the rights of communities of color on paper is not enough until it is reflected in the lived experiences of all Arizonans."

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