August 27, 2009

Parking, Riding the Bus, and Walking While Latino: Racial Profiling and Deportation in the era of 287 (g)

Two planeloads of deportees arrived in the military airport in Guatemala City yesterday, and one today. On the plane today, there were 138 passengers. Many of them had been living in the United States and were arrested on city streets.

One young man told me he was walking down the street near Tick Tock Liquors in Langley Park, Maryland. An officer stopped him and asked for his ID. He showed him a false driver’s license and was arrested and deported. This is a clear case of racial profiling. Do we want to live in a society where police officers ask people to show proof of citizenship or legal residence when walking around their neighborhoods? Langley Park, Maryland has a high concentration of Latinos. Some, like this young man, are undocumented. Others are legal permanent residents and citizens. Is it the role of the police to stop people and ask them to prove their right to live in the US? Most people I know don’t want to be asked by the police for their ID when they are walking down the street. Few people carry proof of citizenship with them.

Another young man I met at the airport today told me he was on a Greyhound Bus when ICE officials got on the bus and asked everyone for their identifications. This young man had lived in the US for several years and had a valid California driver’s license. That wasn’t enough for ICE officials. They asked him for proof that he was legally in the US. When he couldn’t produce it, they arrested him, detained him, and eventually he was deported. I personally don’t carry my birth certificate or passport unless I am traveling internationally. Very few people carry proof of citizenship with them when traveling from one state to another, and it is certainly not required by law. Does this meant that a person suspected to be undocumented could be pulled off of a Greyhound bus and detained by ICE officials simply for not having proof of the legal right to live in the US? Since when is this sort of racial profiling acceptable in the US?

Most of the deportees were men. Of the 138 who arrived today, no more than ten were women. I suspect that this is because men are more likely to be out driving, taking buses, and walking, and thus more likely to be picked up by the police and turned over to immigration authorities.

I talked to another young man who told me he was parking his car in the hospital garage at Miami Dade hospital when he was picked up. His mother was on her deathbed, and he had taken the morning off to visit her. As he was parking, another car hit him from behind. He was driving without a license and wanted to avoid trouble, so he tried to make a deal with the man who ran into his car. However, a security guard showed up and began to ask both of them for their IDs and the papers for their car. As they were going through this, a police officer showed up and took over. The officer asked the young man for his license. He told him he didn’t have a license. This officer was from the Miami-Dade County Sheriff Department. He then asked him if he was illegal or not. As far as I know, the county sheriff is not supposed to inquire about people’s legal status. And, if they do ask, you don’t have to respond. This young man, however, was not aware of his rights and told the county sheriff officer that he was undocumented. The officer called the Border Patrol, and they came to pick him up from the scene.

A few weeks later, his mother passed on. Fortunately, he was let out of detention to pay his last respects. He had exactly 45 minutes to spend with his dead mother, and had to wear a prison uniform and shackles. Nevertheless, he was grateful to have that time with his mother.

Ten days later, he was deported to Guatemala, leaving behind his wife and two small children.

Many of the people I met in the airport today had left their families in the US. I lent my cell phone to several of them to make phone calls to the US to ask their relatives to send money or to ask for phone numbers of relatives they might have in Guatemala. One man got in touch with his wife, and she wired him money. Another was able to secure a number for a relative here who came to pick him up.

One of the saddest cases today was that of a woman whose bags arrived, but she didn’t show up. She had a heart attack just before getting on the plane, and was not deported. Outside the gates of the airport, about seven of her family members were waiting when the officials had to tell them what happened. They were devastated, not knowing if she is alive or among the nearly 100 people who have died in the past few years in immigration detention facilities.

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