Insane Traffic Stop Tests ‘Show Me Your Papers’ Law

A mother of three with a pending domestic violence visa was detained for five days over a traffic violation. Now she's a legal test case.

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 25: People protest in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, on April 25, 2012 in Washington, DC. Later this morning the high court will hear arguments on Arizona v. United States and will be tasked with deciding the conflicting roles of national and state governments in controlling the lives of noncitizens living illegally in the U.S. while deciding the constitutionality of Arizona's immigration law SB 1070.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Shortly after Arizona’s draconian “Show Me Your Papers” immigration law went into effect in 2012,  Maria del Rosario Cortes, a 31 year-old Mexican national and mother of three, was put in handcuffs, transported to border patrol station, and detained for five days over a traffic violation. Today, her startling treatment became the basis for the first lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of enforcement of the law.

Cortes suffered horrific acts of domestic violence at the hands of her former husband, according to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU in Federal Court yesterday afternoon, and, after cooperating in his prosecution, Cortes applied for and eventually received a U-Visa, which grants citizenship and work rights to victims of domestic violence.

After she applied for the U-Visa but before it was granted, Cortes was driving through Pinal County and was pulled over by an Arizona sheriff’s deputy for a cracked windshield. The depury, Chad Lakosky, asked Cortes for her license and identification papers, and asked if she had a visa. Cortes gave Lakosky her full name and explained that she was in the process of obtaining a U-Visa.

Cortes offered to show the deputy a copy of her pending U-Visa application but he wasn’t interested, Cortes says. Another officer, Kristina Stoltz, joined Lakosky at the traffic stop and asked Cortes to step out of the vehicle. Stoltz patted Cortes down, then handcuffed 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,” Cortes says in a written statement.

Cortes, still handcuffed, was driven 13 miles away from the traffic stop to a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol office in Casa Grande. When they arrived at the office, Lakosky wrote Cortes a traffic citation for her windshield, lack of license, and failure to provide proof of insurance. Then he left the office and Cortes was transferred to federal immigration officers who kept her in detention for the next five days.  In Lakosky’s narrative of the report on the incident, he wrote that Cortes was “cited and released.” He made no mention of Cortes being arrested, handcuffed, transported, and detained for five days.

The lawsuit claims that Lakosky and Stoltz violated Cortes’ Fourth amendment right against unreasonable seizure. Cortes’ lawyers argue that “at no time during the stop did these Defendants have either probable cause or reasonable suspicion that Ms. Cortes was involved in criminal activity and at no time was Ms. Cortes told that she was under arrest for any reason. At no time during the stop did Ms. Cortes believe that she was free to leave the scene”

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said in a written statement that his “deputies took the exact actions as what is required by law.”

The “Show Me Your Papers” law, officially known S.B. 1070, allows police officers, while enforcing other laws, to question the immigration status of those suspected of being in the country illegally.  After the law passed in 2010, opponents filed legal complaints against the the constitutionality of law’s provisions, arguing that it sanctioned racial profiling and that state law was overstepping federal statues. The Supreme Court upheld the law and said they could not determine if S.B. 1070 was a violation of Federal Law because it still had not been enforced.

Cortes, who experienced enforcement of the law first hand, is seeking punitive damages for violation of her constitutional rights. She was granted a U-Visa in July of 2013.

(Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Join The Conversation