Arizona Cop Files Report Saying He 'Smelled' Undocumented Migrants in Van

An Arizona State Trooper filed a report following a traffic stop in April, indicating he could smell that several occupants of the van he pulled over were undocumented migrants.

Sergeant Travis Smith with the Arizona Department of Public Safety initiated a traffic stop with a white van along Interstate 10, according to an April 16 press release. The press release also says "Upon contact with the driver, a United States citizen, the state trooper observed 17 undocumented aliens in the vehicle." What it doesn't say, is how Sergeant Smith determined that the 17 passengers were undocumented.

"I exited my patrol car and approached the side of the van," Sergeant Smith wrote in the incident report obtained by Newsweek. "The passenger window was rolled down and I immediately smelled an odor that was consistent with smuggling of illegal aliens from past experiences. Once I was at the passenger window, I noticed numerous persons in the van and the driver looked scared."

Arizona law does task police with determining a detainee's immigration status in a relevant situation, as part of Senate Bill 1070. But it does not list "smell" as an appropriate way of doing so, not even on a level of reasonable suspicion, the Arizona DPS said. The Arizona Attorney General's Office issued guidance on how to apply the law, saying officers can't use race or ethnicity to determine reasonable suspicion if someone is undocumented.

Arizona Traffic Stop
An Arizona State Trooper filed a report following a traffic stop in April, indicating he could smell that several occupants of the van he pulled over were undocumented migrants. Arizona Traffic Cam/Courtesy Arizona DPS

Civil rights lawyers who spoke to the Arizona Mirror said the use of odor, in this case, is considered a "race-based factor."

"You can't smell someone's immigration status," said Billy Peard, an immigrant rights advocate and former attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona.

Yvette Borja, a border litigation attorney for the ACLU of Arizona, agreed. "That sounds racist to me. I don't know how somebody smells like an immigrant," she said.

Smith also said in the incident report that he initially pulled the van over because the van slowed from 70 to 60 mph in a 65 mph zone upon seeing him, the passenger was "wearing camo-style clothing" and the driver and passenger did not make eye contact with him.

Smith called for backup from Immigration Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Border Patrol to take custody of the "undocumented aliens," but both departments refused, "due to the President's orders/policies" his statement said.

Smith was likely referring to a series of orders and recommendations from President Joe Biden's administration regarding policies and priorities for ICE and the Department of Homeland Security. These guidelines generally prioritize engaging with undocumented individuals suspected of terrorism, or those who are convicted violent felons.

"I told the [ICE] Agent that the illegal aliens would be released at the scene to walk off the highway and how that would look," Smith wrote. "The agent said if we found any of the persons were aggravated felons they would come out and get them."

A spokesperson for the Arizona DPS wrote in an email to Newsweek Monday, "The Department does not consider the 'odor that's consistent with smuggling of illegal aliens' as an acceptable factor to establish reasonable suspicion that a person is a noncitizen and unlawfully present in the United States."

He declined to comment on questions regarding whether any of the men in the van had since been held or charged, or if officer Smith had undergone any corrective action or training.

Update (6/14/2021, 10:49 p.m.): This story has been updated to include a statement from the Arizona Department of Public Safety.