The Tucson police said Arizona's controversial SB1070 immigration law was designed to make the immigrant community afraid of law enforcement authorities and leave the state.

"This law was originally designed so that undocumented immigrants would be afraid of the police, be afraid of coming to ask for help, feel themselves to be a target and, in that sense, I think that the law was successful, given that some of them have left the state voluntarily," said Roberto Villaseñor in an interview with Efe.

Arizona's Hispanic community has continued to fight against SB1070 since it went into effect in 2010, and they complain about cases of abuse by the law enforcement agencies.

At the heart of the debate is the law's controversial Section 2(B), also known as the "show me your papers" provision, that since 2012 requires police officers to ask about the immigration status of people they "suspect" of being undocumented.

Villaseñor said that his officers comply with SB1070 by contacting the Border Patrol as soon as they determine there is probable cause to believe a person may be undocumented, rejecting accusations that the Tucson Police Department discriminates against the immigrant community.

"The idea exists that the police have the option to call the Border Patrol or not, but the truth is that we don't," said Villaseñor, who was appointed police chief in 2009.

The TPD has been the target of protests after a confrontation last Sunday between police, Border Patrol agents and activists who lay down underneath official vehicles to try and prevent an undocumented immigrant from being handed over to immigration authorities.

"I understand the confusion and the dissatisfaction that exists among activists and members of the community about the interpretation of the law. The way in which SB1070 is written gives no other option to police departments than to verify the immigration status of the detained person," Villaseñor said.

According to TPD figures, from June 12 to August 10 its officers verified the immigration status of 3,109 people under SB1070.

On those occasions, the Border Patrol responded just 45 times and took 24 people into custody.

One of the main things leading the police to ask for the immigration papers of drivers is the lack of a driver's license or other official identification issued by the state.

According to the TPD, 43.1 percent of the people whose immigration status was verified under SB1070 were of Hispanic origin, which, according to Villaseñor, is in line with the proportion of Latinos in Tucson. 

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