Family Deported after Teen is Caught with Marijuana

By: Gerri L. Elder

An entire Tucson, Ariz., family has been deported after a high school student in the family was found with marijuana in his backpack at school.

When the teen boy was seen at school acting incoherently and appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, school officials searched his backpack. When they found that the ninth-grader had a small amount of marijuana, they called the police.

A police officer arrived at Catalina High Magnet School to investigate the situation. He called the student’s parents to come to the high school and asked to see their driver’s licenses when they arrived.

The student’s parents allegedly told the police officer that they had been living in the United States illegally for six years with their two children. The couple has a 12-year-old son in addition to the ninth-grade student at Catalina High Magnet School.

Since the parents could not produce valid driver’s licenses to show the police officer at the school, the Border Patrol was called. When Border Patrol agents arrived at the school they took the parents and the student into custody and then went to the 12-year-old child’s school and picked him up.

The mother and her two sons were taken to the border of Mexico for a procedure known as voluntary return. The father was held for formal deportation because the agency had previously apprehended him a number of times. They apparently were never given the chance to consult with a criminal defense attorney.

Although the police officer faced scathing public criticism from immigration rights activists for the way the case was handled, and there was even a public protest by the students of the high school, police officials say that the case was handled correctly.

Since the ninth-grade boy had allegedly committed a crime, the police department policy allows officers to contact the Border Patrol when they suspect that a person is in the country illegally.

“We can’t lose track of the fact that an administrator came across a juvenile who was violating the law, in possession of marijuana,” Tucson Police Chief Robert Villasenor said. “That is a crime in this country, whether you are here illegally or not.”

Immigration rights activists argue that allowing immigration authorities into the schools could create more mistrust and fear in the immigrant community.

Jennifer Allen, director of Tucson-based Border Action Network said, “Now you have people who are afraid to call the police when they have been robbed because they are afraid the police will come and instead of investigating the crime will ask them about their immigration status.”

Chyrl Hill Lander, a spokeswoman for the Tucson Unified School District said she was unaware of other immigration-related arrests at Tucson area schools, and said the district would have preferred that police called the Border Patrol once they left the campus.

The policy of the Tucson Police Department is that if officers have already stopped a person on suspicion of committing a crime they may ask immigration agents to respond to determine if the person is in the country legally.

Villasenor said the Police Department doesn’t want officers to become immigration officials, nor does he want to see crime victims or witnesses who are here illegally be too afraid to come forward because they might be deported. However, he says that federal immigration agents will be called when police officers believe they are required.

“While we don’t want to put a chilling effect on anyone calling us, we are also obligated to do our job,” Villasenor said.