Thursday, October 25, 2007
Do you believe Highway Patrol should be question residency to passengers? Even to people who had a flat tire on the freeway rather to assist them?
Do Highway Patrol had the Authority to question residency to all or just to Hispanics? I've never heard of anyone who is not Hispanic being detained on any traffic stop. Why?
Raids are against Criminals or fugitives? or are single out just for their skin color?
Immigration crackdown feasts on motorists.
JEFFERSON CITY — The state's crackdown on illegal immigrants has led to 52 arrests in the first six weeks, with most caught in routine traffic stops.
More than half of those detained were passengers. One had a flat tire. Others were pulled over for speeding or failure to use a turn signal properly.
While many have hailed Gov. Matt Blunt's get-tough policy, critics say the Missouri Highway Patrol's even more aggressive strategy of checking residency during traffic stops could result in racial profiling.
"If you're being told from on high that we're going to stop illegal immigration, law enforcement is going to look twice at someone who looks Hispanic," said Jorge Riopedre, secretary of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan St. Louis. "It's only human nature."
Tony Rothert, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, said the Highway Patrol doesn't seem to have a "coherent policy" for deciding whom to arrest.
"I've never heard of anyone who is not Hispanic being taken in for failing to use the turn signal," he said.
In launching the stepped-up enforcement on Aug. 27, Blunt pointed to an illegal immigrant from Peru who has been accused of committing a triple murder in New Jersey while free on bail on a rape charge. Blunt said an earlier immigration check could have prevented those murders. He directed the Highway Patrol to run residency checks on everyone troopers lock up.
The patrol is going further. It encourages officers to run computerized immigration checks on motorists who lack sufficient IDs — primarily Missouri drivers licenses issued after 2005. But exceptions can be made if the officer personally knows the driver.
"Our people are trying to do everything they can to make sure people can legally operate vehicles," patrol Major Bret Johnson said. "If something bad were to happen, the question would be, 'Why didn't you check their status?'"
That question came up last month, after an illegal immigrant ran his SUV into diners at a Clayton restaurant. The driver, Sergio Lopez, 23, had been cited for several traffic offenses in a previous crash in St. Louis, but his residency apparently had not been checked
The Post-Dispatch filed a public records request to obtain information about those detained since Aug. 27. The results showed that relatively few were charged with crimes other than immigration violations.
More than half — 31 out of 52 — were passengers in vehicles stopped by the patrol. One was gambling at a casino.
A few of the detainees were charged with serious crimes, including two arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. Records show that six people were arrested in a stealing case and two were picked up as part of a salvage yard investigation, though the records don't offer details. The patrol also declined to provide details.
Blunt's anti-illegal immigration stance has angered Hispanic leaders across the state, but he continues to defend the move. He even took another step on Wednesday, sending a letter to county prosecutors saying he supports efforts to enforce a state law against illegal immigration.
The law says employers found employing illegal immigrants can be ruled ineligible for state tax credits, tax abatements or loans.
"I am confident that you have the power to use this law at your discretion," Blunt wrote.
Tracking the arrests of illegal immigrants the last several weeks is complicated by the secrecy that surrounds immigration enforcement. The patrol usually leaves detainees at a county jail that doubles as a federal holding center.
The detainees at times are not held long. Those who are from Mexico and have no criminal records often are given the option of a quick "voluntary return" with no charges, said Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Immigration has become a hot political topic in many states, with Republicans and Democrats aligning behind initiatives such as penalties for hiring undocumented workers.
Some have pushed for agreements that allow state officers to make immigration arrests and handle deportation paperwork, under federal supervision. Blunt has applied to be the seventh state with such authority, joining Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia and Massachusetts.
If Blunt's request is granted, the state will send 25 officers to five weeks of training, probably in Georgia.
Even without such authority, supporters say, Missouri is on solid legal ground in policing residency.
A 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision gave law enforcement broad authority to check immigration status, said Kris W. Kobach, who teaches law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
"This is basic information, like asking a person his name," said Kobach, who served as chief adviser on immigration to former Attorney General John Ashcroft. "As long as it's uniform policy that applies in all situations — like a person being arrested or all people being stopped for a traffic violation — then the possibility of any kind of profiling is very low."
In the six weeks after Blunt issued his directive, state and local law enforcement officers ran 1,136 immigration checks, according to the Missouri Information Analysis Center, which is part of the Missouri Department of Public Safety.
One officer, Patrol Corp. R.A. Seaton of Troop C arrested nearly half of the detainees — 25 out of 52 — in two traffic stops on Interstate 70 in Warren County.
In the first case, Omar Gomez-Ibarra, 24, was stopped for improper use of a turn signal. The 1997 Chevy Astro van also had a broken luggage shell on top, and items were falling out, said a spokesman for Troop C, which covers St. Louis and surrounding counties.
The driver had an ID card that appeared to be fraudulent, and the other occupants — seven men and four juveniles — had no identification, said the spokesman, Sgt. Al Nothum. The 12 were taken to the Montgomery County Jail, according to the patrol.
Rusnok, the ICE spokesman, said four of the men were deported, three were held as material witnesses, and the driver was turned over to U.S. marshals for prosecution. The juveniles were transferred to another facility.
Seaton declined to comment. Nothum defended the officer's decision to pull over the van, saying, "We can't have people going down the highway with stuff falling out of their vehicle."
In Seaton's second case, Miriam Castillo, 22, was pulled over for what patrol reports describe only as a "traffic violation." Seaton called immigration officials, who told him to detain Castillo and her 12 passengers, the patrol said.
Johnson, the patrol major, said detainees could have dangerous drug dealing, human smuggling or "sex ring" records that aren't apparent, because the state doesn't track that information once federal agents take charge of a case.
In some cases, bad luck seems to be the main reason people are caught. Consider the two men who were arrested on Highway 65 in Taney County when patrol Cpl. Gary Riggs stopped to help them with a flat tire.
Riggs said the men, who worked at an area restaurant, admitted they were in the country illegally. Both men were taken to the Taney County Jail. One of the men was the vehicle's owner, Jose L. Martinez-Pimentel, 20, who was charged with failing to transfer ownership of his vehicle.
The charge was the result of his neglecting to sign the back of his title