[It's not just Irving, of course: the video above is of police violence to break up a peaceful pro-migrants demonstration in Los Angeles this past Spring. Thanks to Marisa for this post. She's been covering this story regularly at Latina Lista. -- Pach]
Break the law, expect to do the time. That’s a tenet of any justice system that deserves respect and enforcement. But there’s a big difference between a major crime classified as a felony and lesser crimes known as misdemeanors* that can either draw a stiff fine or a short jail stay.
Illegal immigration is one of those misdemeanors. The only time it transforms into a felony is when the undocumented immigrant’s record shows he/she was deported once before and they are now back in the country illegally.
For the vast majority of undocumented immigrants, this is the only “major” law they will ever break while living in the United States. Yet, because of the anti-immigrant rhetoric that is running rampant nowadays that freely labels all undocumented immigrants as lawbreakers and equates them with serious criminals, the public mindset is that they are all wanted on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
That’s hardly the case but you wouldn’t know it with a visit to Irving, Texas.
These days, the Dallas, Texas suburb is looking like the proverbial speed trap for undocumented immigrants. It’s one thing for undocumented immigrants to be caught behind the wheel of a car since in Texas they can’t qualify to have a driver’s license but to be taken into custody for enjoying a barbecue?
Deportations from the city of Irving have risen dramatically over the last few months, 300 per month according to some estimates. It’s gotten so bad that the Mexican Consulate has issued a travel warning for its citizens to avoid the suburb since “looking” Latino is enough to get you carted off to jail.
Of course the Mayor and Police Chief deny that there is any kind of racial profiling going on. But when one small suburb with a total population of only 206,000 has about half of the deportees for the region of the North Texas Mexican consulate, which spans from East Texas all the way up to the Texas Panhandle, something’s not right.
The Mayor has been quoted as saying that the police force is just doing an excellent job. Again, Speed Trap, USA cities say the same thing.
The program that the city of Irving is participating in that allows them to identify undocumented immigrants is called the Criminal Alien Program.
It’s a program that empowers the police force, on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), to identify those immigrants who are not here legally – but the key factor in this program is that before it can be determined whether or not the person is in the country illegally, he/she must already be in jail for another offense.
What’s happening in Irving is that there seems to be clear abuse of this program. Church pastors and Mexican consulate officials are reporting that too many of the people they speak with are saying that police are indiscriminately approaching them on the streets, in yards, etc. and demanding proof of their immigration status – then they are carted off to jail.
What is happening in Irving is, sure, the undocumented immigrant community is thinning out but there are still many immigrant families left behind, especially children who are legal citizens.
The message to these children is no better than the message their parents tried to flee from in their native countries – the police can’t be trusted.
To the citizens of Irving, the message is far from a good job well done but one of planting the impression that every brown face is a dangerous criminal that needs to be removed from the streets.
What that does for relations among the city’s Anglos, African Americans and Hispanics is pretty predictable.
What it will do to the city’s future is unimaginable.
*It is generally a misdemeanor for the first offense, and can be a felony of subsequent convictions. See section 275 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended. However, persons entering the US without inspection are never charged with any of this the first time and if caught are placed in removal proceedings which are civil and not criminal.
(If a person is deported and then sneaks back in and is caught, that is a felony and they get one year federal prison. Getting caught the first time, with no prior deportation, is a civil proceeding even though technically he could be charged with a misdemeanor. )