The ACLU is concerned the checkpoints can lead to racial profiling
. Hispanics are frustrated and confused after the Sheriff’s Office requested the involvement of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in a traffic checkpoint this month.
ICE at checkpoints criticized
Hispanic community, advocates question coordination by Jackson County Sheriff's Office
May. 26, 2012
Written by Romando Dixson
TUCKASEGEE — The Hispanic community in Jackson County is frustrated and confused after the Sheriff’s Office requested the involvement of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in a traffic checkpoint this month.
Community members and civil liberties advocates have questioned why the presence of ICE was needed at a seat belt checkpoint on May 16 in Tuckasegee that resulted in the arrest of 15 individuals. Some in the community have also complained about the Sheriff’s Office’s frequency of license checkpoints in other parts of the county.
Raul Pinto, racial justice attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, is concerned that checkpoints, especially those involving ICE, can lead to “rampant racial profiling,” of the Latino community.
“It begs the question why they have asked for the cooperation of ICE for a traffic safety checkpoint, which then seems to take the checkpoint from traffic safety to immigration enforcement, which is only allowed near an international border,” Pinto said. “As far as I know, Jackson County is not near a border.”
Vincent Picard, southern region communications director and spokesman for ICE, said the seat belt checkpoint in question is part of a statewide campaign under the N.C. Governor’s Highway Safety Initiative.
“While the principal purpose of these campaigns is to increase seat belt and child safety seat usage, it also often results in the identification of criminal violators,” he said. “As a law enforcement agency, ICE regularly works with our city, county and state partners in operations that enhance public safety.”
ICE identified 15 foreign-born individuals who did not possess proper immigration documents to be in the country legally, Picard said. The criminal convictions of the arrested persons ranged from multiple traffic violations and DUI offenses to domestic violence, ICE said. Authorities identified two people who had been previously deported from the U.S. and re-entered illegally, Picard said.
The 15 individuals were taken into ICE custody and transported to Charlotte. Picard said 12 of the 15 arrested were released under Orders of Recognizance or placed into the Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program. The remaining three were booked into custody and detained by ICE.
On that same day, the Latino community complained of license checkpoints in Cashiers that led to arrests. Some of the people arrested May 16 have sought legal representation.
Marty Rosenbluth, a Durham-based attorney, is representing five of the arrested individuals. He said ICE’s involvement in the arrests does not fall in line with 2011 memorandums stating enforcement priorities and prosecutorial discretion.
“ICE has said consistently that their priority is apprehending and deporting dangerous criminals,” said Rosenbluth, who is also executive director of the N.C. Immigrant Rights Project. “So why are they participating in a road block which seems to have netted almost entirely people who were driving without a license?
“It’s difficult to stop local sheriffs from doing this type of thing, but ICE should know better.”
The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Sheriff Jimmy Ashe or sheriff’s Major Shannon Queen. Picard, based in Atlanta, said ICE does not frequently get involved with seatbelt check points in North Carolina.
“I’ve been here for six months and I think that’s the only one I’m aware of,” he said.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat from Illinois’ 4th District in Chicago, was in Charlotte on May 16 to attend the deportation hearing of Gabino Sanchez, a Ridgeland, S.C. man who has lived in the U.S since he was a young teenager. Sanchez’s only violations are driving without a license, Gutierrez said. While in Charlotte, Gutierrez heard about the Jackson County checkpoint controversy.
Gutierrez supports President Barack Obama’s decision a year ago to target deportation resources primarily at serious criminals and to de-emphasize the deportation of those with roots in the community and clean records.
“The president has stated his priority is to target serious criminals for deportation and to move away from raids and roundups,” Gutierrez said. “But from what I heard about what happened in Jackson County and the participation of ICE in a traffic enforcement action, that doesn’t sound consistent with the president’s policies.”
Eduardo Bernal, Hispanic coordinator for Smoky Mountain Vicariate, said people in the community would like to know the criteria for being arrested. He also said authorities checked the paperwork for everyone in the car, not just the driver.
“We’re just trying to let the community know we’re doing whatever we can to find out why this happened and try to go back to normal,” Bernal said. “People feel a little scared and are trying to go back to their routine and daily life of working and supporting their families.”
The National Immigrant Youth Alliance called the checkpoints, which resulted in arrests and tickets for not having driver’s licenses, “an aggressive and shameful attack on immigrant communities in North Carolina.” A woman who did not want to be identified said some people are just working to pay the tickets they receive for not having a driver’s license.
“There have been many checkpoints all over our community lately, especially where Latinos live,” she said. “Just now, I heard about two vans that pulled up at a gas station in Cashiers where day laborers who are seeking work are being asked for their IDs. Here, in my neighborhood, for example, the Sheriff’s Department sets license checkpoints right in the entrance, and then switches to the exit. There have been times when they set the checkpoints right in the middle of the road where I have to go pick up my son from school and I wasn't even able to do that because of them.”