Thursday, July 10, 2008

Definitions of damnation by 287g in Nashville

The case of Juana Villegas DeLaPaz in Nashville points to the kind of political doubletalk in public policy that has justified America's continued involvement in Iraq. And likewise, the list of victims just continues to grow.

This nation invaded Iraq to find and dismantle threatening weapons of mass destruction. No such weapons were found. Yet the public policy was continued there under new justifications: this time to provide freedom to another people and democracy to another region.

The 287g deportation program was sold to Nashvillians as a way to deport a criminal element among undocumented workers and their families that threatened the safety of you and me. Sheriff Daron Hall cited a DUI offense by an undocumented worker that resulted in a traffic collision taking the lives of a Mt. Juliet couple. The DUI offense was the 12th or 13th by the undocumented worker. The federal government should have flagged his name on its own and deported him. A system was in place to do so. But the Feds failed to do their job.

Hall also has pointed to a double murder committed by an undocumented worker for the need of 287g in Nashville.

Now let's consider Ms. DeLaPaz. She was operating a vehicle without a Tennessee's driver's license. Officials like Hall and Richard Rocha with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have fallen back on that fact to claim that criminals are still being targeted. Besides, to be illegally in this country, also is a crime, they say.

Yet these offenses cannot automatically be considered a threat to you and me. The only reason an undocumented worker in Tennessee does not have a license is because the state removed the ability of undocumented workers to get one. With a license comes a test on the rules of the road and the requirement of insurance. A license or not, however, does not mean someone will drink and drive. We've seen people with licenses like members of the Tennessee Titans get stopped for this offense. And of course, there are several country music stars.

Illegal presence in this country is not a felony. Rocha calls it an administrative offense. Yet undocumented workers and their families are not even being arrested by local authorities for being in the country illegally. Only the Feds can do that. They're being stopped and arrested for state and local offenses, like fishing without a license, operating a vehicle without a license or operating a vehicle with a broken tail light.

It is only when the person gets under the sheriff's custody that their name is processed through a federal data system to determine legality in the country or any legal proceedings connected to their status. Then the sheriff holds them until the Feds arrive.

For any offense, committed by a citizen or not, the police do the arresting, not the sheriff's department. And Metro Nashville has several police departments operating within its county borders.

When stopped for an offense, every person must produce needed identification to ensure the police that he or she can be depended on to appear before a court for the ticketed offense. Without needed identification that shows the person has established a residence and presence in Nashville, the police must arrest and take the person into custody. Then the alleged offenders are taken for a hearing on their offense before a local magistrate.

Metro Police Chief Serpas has given his officers the discretion to consider something more than a driver's license with a picture ID to prove reliability to appear in court. Car registration and a Matricula card together are considered worthy ID by Metro Police.

But it appears to be a subjective decision for each local police department to set its own ID standards. And there is the rub. This inconsistency results in the kind of inhumanity Ms. DeLaPaz faced. Whether her background after checking included something that caught the attention of Berry Hill Police is unknown. But I'll be inquiring and reporting as much in my next piece on this case. Ms. DeLaPaz, however, apparently had a car registration and a Matricula card. A Matricula card is an ID issued by the country of Mexico and also its nearby consulate in Atlanta.

What is known from at least one advocate source is that she was very pregnant, was stopped outside a prenatal clinic and ended up giving birth under custody at Metro General Hospital. Then she had to give up her newborn baby and go back to jail.

At 3 a.m. today, she was released.

While the law is the law, we hope it will be written in hearts and minds and not on stone. Arresting and then holding a very pregnant woman with three children for a non-violent offense of driving without an operator's license goes beyond a basic sense of human decency. We'd hope law enforcement would use common sense along with consistency.

Yet like the war in Iraq, the 287g program is full of contradictions and on-the-run rationalization to cover up for promises not kept and inhumanity that ravages so many. More than 3,000 people have been deported by Sheriff Hall's 287g program. Families continue to be devastated. Business owners and managers call advocates for help to rescue their workers. They usually are mothers whose husbands have been detained somewhere in the United States for weeks after arrest and holding in Nashville. These women can't support a household -- that includes American citizens -- on their own.

Is Nashville a safer place?

Is it also a better place?

Do we need to have both for a progressive city of more than 1,000 places of worship?

We need to stand up, speak up and be counted before more very pregnant women are arrested and separated from their little ones after birth. Do it now, or Nashville's image of Music City may soon become noise to a more tolerant nation.

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