By Raymond R. Beltrán
It’s been one and a half weeks since National City Police Officer Steve Shepard reported Alejandro Galeana and Narfelix Arzeta to Border Patrol agents. The issue surrounding the incident has been geared toward the use of matrícula consulares as means of identification. A more relevant issue for the Hispanic community is the role of local police endowed with the power to resolve immigration issues such as the case at JC Penny’s in Plaza Bonita?
JC Penny’s Discriminates
At 12 o’clock noon on November 14, Antonio Flores Noyola and his cousin, Alejandro Galeana, arrived at JC Penny’s. Antonio has been a customer and current credit card holder of the store for the past four years. The two men were shopping for early Christmas gifts for their nephews and nieces. They picked out two pairs of pants and two shirts. The two men exited the store at 1:08 p.m., and returned home.
When they arrived, Antonio had found that he’d bought the wrong size. To exchange the items, the family decided they would all return to Plaza Bonita with Antonio. Returning to JC Penny’s was his wife, two children, his cousin Alejandro, and his Tía Narfelix Arzeta.
When they reentered the store at 4 p.m., Antonio first saw a Latina cashier and said to her in Spanish, “Excuse me, I need to return these pants. I don’t want the money back, I just want to exchange them for the right size.” She replied to him saying he needed to return to the department where he had made the original purchase. He did. With his family a few feet behind him, he started to notice a security guard walking around them. Arriving at the men’s department, Antonio split with his family so they could shop on their own. He was told by the cashier to grab the correct pair of pants and return with them so they could be exchanged. He found the correct size, and the exchange took place minutes later. Antonio headed towards the shoe department to meet with his family.
“They started watching us between the aisles. We were there five minutes looking, and they came up to us with the National City Police Department and a plain-clothed officer,” remembers Noyola. “He said he needed us and asked us what we were doing, and asked what was in my bag. I told him my pants, and he checked my receipt. He asked if we had identification. I gave him my driver’s license, and then he asked my cousin. So [Alejandro] gave him a matrícula consular, then, he told me that JC Penny’s reported a problem.”
The officers escorted Antonio back to his family to check out his story about the previous events of the day. While the family waited for the police to discuss their future actions, Antonio asked the Latina cashier in Spanish what was going on. She translated his concerns so that the JC Penny’s manager, who Antonio thought was a plain-clothed officer, could understand. He replied that the store has a routine problem with shoplifters, and Antonio replied, “That’s fine, but why are you bothering me?” Today, Antonio’s question has still not been answered.
National City Police Officer Steve Shepard accompanied the manager and security guards while questioning the family. Because he told them that he didn’t recognize the legality of the matrícula provided by Alejandro and because Narfelix left her identification at home, he’d have to call the Border Patrol.
With two children crying and watching their uncle sit in handcuffs outside in the parking lot, Antonio asked if he could go into the store to report a complaint and return his credit card, as he would no longer be a customer. JC Penny’s security notified him that he has been banned from the premises for one year. The store has yet to charge any of the family members with a crime.
The JC Penny’s manager stood outside watching the entire incident take place. Antonio Noyola, a native of Guerrero, Mexico with no criminal record, gave Narfelix and Alejandro all the money he had in his pocket already knowing what was about to occur. Minutes later, they were deported. Antonio left the scene at approximately 6 p.m.
“He didn’t say excuse me, no apology. He just ignored us and left,” says Antonio about the JC Penny’s manager. “I interpreted it as they couldn’t give me an answer, and I see the incident as discrimination.”
Latino Community’s Writing on the Wall
After the September 11th attacks, the United State’s Department of Justice began introducing the Clear Law Enforcement for Criminal Alien Removal [CLEAR] Act. This policy, which has been gaining rapid support from Congress this year, empowers state and local police officers the right to detain and report criminal illegal immigrants in order to “enforce civil immigration laws.” There are, however, guidelines that precede any action taken by police.
The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) passed by Congress in 1996 proclaims that before an officer detains and reports an undocumented person to the Border Patrol, the person first must be guilty of a felony charge in the U.S. An officer must also submit to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreement, which validates that an officer has completed “adequate training”, and the officer must be bound to a “formal agreement with the Department of Justice [DOJ].” Preceding these guidelines comes the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIA), which states that if a police officer takes immigration responsibilities into his own hands, there must be a demand due to “the mass influx of foreign nationals,” the situation at hand must require immediate federal government assistance, and federal agents must attain the permission of the state or local supervising department.
The DOJ released an official letter on February 5, 1996 stating that “state and local police lack recognized legal authority to stop and detain an alien solely on suspicion of civil deportability, as opposed to a criminal violation of the immigration laws or other laws.”
According to National City Acting Police Chief Penu Pauu Jr., the only formal relationship shared between immigration laws, the Border Patrol, and the National City Police Department is that they’re “sworn to uphold state, federal, and local laws.” Pauu states that Officer Shepard followed proper procedure when dealing with fifty-year-old Narfelix and thirty-year-old Alejandro. He claims that Border Patrol agents were called upon to assist in identifying the two individuals, and that he would have done the same.
“We’re not going to apologize for anything we did,” says Chief Pauu. “JC Penny may owe them an apology, but we conducted an official criminal investigation.”
The AEDPA states that police officers cannot take action in immigration issues if there is no felony cause. Antonio and his family had already been recognized as innocent parties when Border Patrol agents were summoned, which may indicate that Shepard’s decision to involve immigration officers was overstepping his boundaries as a local police officer. Chief Pauu also divulged that the two actual shoplifters had fled the scene while in custody of JC Penny’s security guards.
In working with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Antonio Noyola is currently looking for an apology from JC Penny’s, and possibly some kind of legal assistance for a discrimination lawsuit. To Antonio and the AFSC, approaching the Noyola family was nothing outside of racial profiling. The store manager is refusing to comment on the matter, and their public relations department has yet to be heard from. According to the AFSC’s U.S. / Mexico Program Coodinator Christian Ramirez, JC Penny’s is refusing to apologize for the false accusations leading to the deportation of Antonio’s family members, and the AFSC is currently calling on the community, particularly JC Penny’s shoppers, to boycott the establishment until they take responsibility for their actions.
While community members question the validity of the matrícula consulares, National City Police Chief Pauu states that officers accept it as nothing more than identification. It does not act as documentation regarding legal status in the U.S., hence, anyone furnishing a matrícula consular will be asked by National City Police for proof of citizenship. Police Chief Pauu also stated that police officers have the right to question suspected undocumented people.
Immediately after the incident, Antonio Noyola followed his Tía Narfelix and cousin Alejandro Galeana to the border in order to arrange for them to stay with family friends in Tijuana. Narfelix Arceta was in the housecleaning business and working, while Alejandro was a construction worker with his cousin. They are not sure whether they want to return to their native hometown in Guerrero, Mexico or not, and Antonio denies previously written rumors that he’s planning on leaving the U.S.
“They stepped all over us,” says Antonio. “They offended us, and it was very shameful how they had us in front of everyone with officers and immigration. They kick us out just like a soccer ball… whenever they want.”