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2 U.S. citizens, 2 ethnicities, 2 accounts of jail treatment

3:29 PM, May 18, 2012   |    comments
Jovana Renteria, Jessica Davenport
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PHOENIX -- Jovana Renteria and Jessica Davenport are both Americans born in the United States.

But Renteria is Hispanic and Davenport is not.

The two women believe that explains why Renteria's identity and citizenship were scrutinized more closely than Davenport's following their arrests April 25 during a protest of Arizona's controversial immigration law, Senate Bill 1070.

The circumstances of their arrests were identical. Both decided beforehand to get arrested in an act of civil disobedience. Both were sitting on the pavement and refused to move when police ordered them. And both intentionally carried no form of identification.

Yet their accounts of the 18 hours they spent in custody before being released the next day suggest Phoenix police officers and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers took extra steps to verify Renteria's identity and citizenship but were quick to accept that Davenport, an Arizona State University student with fair skin and blond hair, was an American.

Phoenix police and ICE officials say ethnicity plays no role in the way prisoners are booked or screened at the jail.

However the two women's descriptions of their disparate treatment highlight one of the main legal arguments of SB 1070 opponents: that the law violates the Constitution by leading -- without any other influencing factors -- to police officers using heightened scrutiny of Latinos, including those who are U.S. citizens and legal immigrants, as they try to identify people in the country illegally.

It also provides a glimpse at what could happen on a larger scale should the U.S. Supreme Court uphold all or parts of the law when it rules in late June.

"This seems to me to be the logical consequence of SB 1070, which pretty clearly was aimed at the unauthorized immigration population from a particular country," said Gabriel "Jack" Chin, a University of California-Davis School of Law professor who studied SB 1070 while teaching at the University of Arizona. "SB 1070 was in some fundamental way about Mexican immigration, and so it's certainly not surprising that law-enforcement agencies responsible for enforcing SB 1070 would focus on the population it was meant to deal with."

Renteria, 32, is a community activist for Puente, a Phoenix-based group that advocates for immigrants.

She was born in Phoenix and identifies herself as third-generation Chicana. Her great-grandparents came from Mexico and Spain. At the Phoenix Police Department's central-booking facility, she said she gave officers her name and date of birth, as requested. But since she wasn't carrying any identification, officers took her into a room and electronically scanned her thumbprints before placing her in a cell while they apparently tried to verify her identity.

At one point, Renteria said, she heard the officers say her thumbprints had come up "negative" and they were going to book her under the name "Jane Doe."

"They wanted to book me under Jane Doe when I actually gave them my (first) name, my last name and my birth date," Renteria said.

Renteria said she thought that it was odd that she did not show up in the system because she used to work in the pharmaceutical industry and had provided her fingerprints in the past for a background check.

After being fingerprinted again, Renteria said, she waited more than two hours in the cell until she was finally transferred to jail.

Police handed her an arrest report showing her name, date of birth and her charges. At the jail, Renteria said federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers asked her where she was born along with the first three numbers of her Social Security number. Renteria said she refused to answer out of protest.

"I believed they should not be in the county jail, anyways, so I refused to give that information," Renteria said.

Besides, she said she had shown them the arrest record with her name and Social Security number.

Meanwhile, police also were processing Davenport. Like Renteria, the 20-year-old, who was born in Mesa, Ariz., and is mostly of Irish and English descent, was not carrying identification when she was arrested. But her booking went more smoothly.

She said Phoenix police didn't scan her thumbprints and never placed her in a cell. She said Phoenix police simply verified her identity by radioing for her driver's license number after she provided her name, date of birth and other personal information as requested.

At the jail, Davenport said she was prepared to tell ICE officers she was born in Mesa after hearing them ask some of the Hispanic protesters where they were born. But she said the ICE officers never asked her that question.

"They were calling us up one by one, and they asked me for my name and the last four digits of my Social, and I was never asked what city I was born in," Davenport said.

Officer James Holmes, a spokesman for the Phoenix Police Department, said officers follow a standard protocol when booking suspects who have been arrested.

They do not discriminate or profile based on race or ethnicity, he said.

He said that during booking, suspects are asked where they were born. If they answer somewhere outside the U.S., they are asked if they are a U.S. citizen.

"We ask that of everybody. It doesn't matter if you are Hispanic, black, white," Holmes said. "It doesn't make any difference. It's a standard question that's on our booking form."

Holmes said police conduct thumbprint screenings when suspects arrive without identification and police can't verify their identity. The prints are run through a nationwide database system.

"The thumbprint goes through the fingerprint database to see if we have ever had any contact with you or whether you have ever been imprinted before," he said.

Holmes could not explain why Davenport's thumbprints were not scanned since she was not carrying any ID.

"They should have," he said.

But he said in cases where police are able to verify a suspect's identity by looking up their driver's license number, "then there is no need" to conduct a thumbprint check.

Any differences in the way the protesters were treated depended on their individual circumstances and the answers they gave, not their ethnicity, he said.

He could not explain why Renteria was held for several hours in police custody, but he said verifying a prisoner's identity sometimes takes time.

Amber Cargile, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, would not agree to an interview.

She issued a written statement that said ICE officers screen all suspects booked into the jail, regardless of their race, ethnicity or language, as part of the federal Criminal Alien Program, which is designed to identify and deport immigrants who pose a public threat.

"The questions posed during the screening may include where the individual was born and their country of citizenship," the statement said.

ICE officers at the jail question suspects to determine their citizenship and whether they should be held for possible immigration enforcement later, she said.

The protesters arrested during the April 25 demonstration were screened and determined to be U.S. citizens, she said.

Renteria and Davenport were part of a group of six protesters who made plans to be arrested the same day the Supreme Court heard arguments in a federal lawsuit against Senate Bill 1070, most of which has been put on hold by two lower courts.

Renteria was among four Hispanics arrested. The others also are U.S. citizens born in this country.

According to their accounts, some of the other Hispanics arrested also experienced increased scrutiny though to a lesser extent than Renteria.

All of the Hispanics said they had their thumbprints scanned so police could verify their identity, including one who was carrying his U.S. passport.

Amy McMullen, 52, of Gold Canyon, Ariz., was the only other non-Hispanic arrested. She and Davenport described other instances where police appeared to give them more favorable treatment than Hispanic members of the group.

After they were arrested and placed in a van, they said police officers repeatedly addressed Davenport and McMullen first before talking to the others.

On Thursday, the six protesters had their first hearing in Phoenix Municipal Court, charged with misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct-fighting and blocking a public street. The cases have been continued to June 13.

By Daniel Gonzalez
The Arizona Republic

The Arizona Republic

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