Story by Matt Hendrickson
Oct. 7, 2008 – Latino and immigrant advocacy groups are reporting that Chicago and Cook County police officers are singling out Latinos for traffic violations. These traffic stops, they say, allow federal authorities to get around Chicago’s sanctuary ordinance.
Passed in October 2006, both the city and the county sanctuary ordinances prohibit police from requesting or providing information about a person’s immigration status. But advocates say that the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is going around that by profiling the names of arrestees, and that there is not much they can do about it.
“One problem is the ordinance does not have punishments for police who violate it,” said Jorge Mujica, co-coordinator of March 10 Movement, an immigrants’ rights organization. “It looks to me like they are profiling.”
Advocates such as Mujica say that the problem has two parts: One, police are pulling over Latino drivers for minor traffic offenses; and two, ICE is detaining Latinos being held at the county jail with immigration holds. Police do this, Mujica said, by asking what country the person was born in.
Asking for country of origin is standard police practice, according to the Cook County Sheriff’s Department, but a spokesman for the department said that they have no role in the issue of a person’s immigration status.
“Cook County is a sanctuary county, which means that we do not work with immigration,” said Steve Patterson, a spokesman for the Cook County Sheriff’s Department.
Another problem is that sanctuary ordinances, while effective at the local level, would not stand up in federal court.
“Any sanctuary ordinance wouldn’t have any teeth in front of a federal judge,” said James C. Ten Broeck Jr., head attorney at Chicago Immigration Advocates Law Offices. “That is something that federal authorities wouldn’t really care about.”
Cook County 8th District Commissioner Roberto Maldonado agrees with advocates who claim that police and immigration officials are racially profiling Latinos. Maldonado said that he believes Latinos are being singled out for arrest by being stopped for minimal traffic violations, such as a failure to completely stop at a stop sign. Undocumented immigrants are then often arrested for not having a driver’s license, or for providing false social security information.
Most of these cases would normally result in bond being set and posted. But at the bond hearings, Maldonado said that Latinos are singled out again by immigration officials looking for Latino last names, and then detaining those individuals.
“This is a fishing expedition. They know there are a lot of Latinos in Chicago and they know they will catch some fish,” Maldonado said.
Maldonado cited records from Cook County Jail, which he said clearly show that Latinos are being profiled. Maldonado requested records for immigration holds between May and the end of July 2008, for which there were 253 immigration holds issued. Of those held on ICE detainers, 91 percent were Latino.
“It seems that Latino names are the only names they are able to read,” Maldonado said.
But Patterson says this is not the case.
“ICE places detainers on people, not us,” he said. “Ninety percent of the time (a person with a detainer) will come in with the detainer already on them.”
However, advocates dispute this, saying that even U.S. citizens of Latino descent have been detained. Mujica said that his organization has three documented cases to prove that point, and they are currently suing the Cook County Sheriff’s Department on behalf of those individuals.
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