Racial profiling. Longtime residents deported for traffic violations. Families torn apart when an undocumented immigrant parent is taken away from U.S. citizen children.
Those are the main results of local police and sheriff departments’ participation in immigration crackdowns in Georgia, according to a report released today by an activist coalition including the Georgia ACLU and the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights. At a press conference Thursday outside the U.S. Immigration Court downtown, three people claiming to be victims of overzealous immigration crackdowns in metro Atlanta told their stories.
“People of color are disproportionately affected…and the disparity increased over time,” Georgia ACLU National Security/Immigrants' Rights Project Director Azadeh Shahshahani said at the event. She was joined by about 25 demonstrators with almost as many cops watching. “The targeting of communities of color has resulted in widespread fear.”
“As a result of these practices, Georgia families are being torn apart,” said GLAHR Exeuctive Director Adelina Nicholls.
In claiming discrimination and abusive “hyper-enforcement,” the report connects the dots of statistics rather than proving any particular case was rotten. Shahshahani tells CL the ACLU is not aware of any Georgia immigration case where racial profiling has been proven in court. The stories of racial profiling from the three people at the event, and others in the report, came without any police reports or other material that confirmed the incidents.
But the GLAHR and Southerners on New Ground, a LGBTQ and immigrants' rights group, said the numbers and stories generally match what they’re seeing happen on the streets.
The report is based on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement data for its 78,635 arrests in Georgia in Fiscal Years 2007-2013, which were obtained through a lawsuit. A big focus is placed on “detainers,” a policy of local police or jails that hold suspects for up to 48 hours without charges if ICE suspects them of being undocumented immigrants. The arrest rate increased more than 950 percent in the time span, largely due to local police involvement. Efforts to reach several metro Atlanta law enforcement agencies for comment on the report were unsuccessful.
The report’s claim of racial profiling is based in how ICE reported the skin complexion of detained suspects: “dark or medium” versus “light or fair.” In 2007, 66.7 percent of those detained were “dark or medium.” By 2013, it was 96.4 percent. Over that same time span, only 1.6 percent of the people being held were described as “light or fair.”
The ACLU acknowledges it has no comparison stats on the complexion of the overall immigrant population. But Shahshahani noted how current detainers are almost all “dark or medium” - even though people of any race or ethnicity can be light-skinned - and the category has risen in conjunction with local cops being involved in immigration enforcement.
Another concern is that detainers are used on people arrested for low-level offenses and who have lived in the U.S. as productive residents and parents for years.
The report found that about 70 percent of those on detainers in 2006-2013 were originally arrested for minor criminal offenses or traffic violations, or had no criminal offenses listed at all.
More than 48,000 Georgia children who are U.S. citizens had a parent arrested by ICE in the report’s time span.
Only a tiny sliver of the arrest records - about 5,400 - showed the year the person entered the U.S. Of those that did, more than half had entered years ago - in 2003 or earlier. Many of those were lawful permanent residents. In some cases, crime victims and witnesses, as well as people on probation, have been detained, the ACLU and GLAHR say.
The speakers at the event included a Conyers mom charged this year with driving without a license; a Marietta man who said he beat a 2012 traffic ticket but now is in an immigration status fight; and a Fayetteville man who said he was arrested a few days after his wife called the police to report someone breaking into their car.
“I was arrested for making a police report,” said the Fayetteville man, Jose Guadalupe. He added that he was held in ICE custody for a day on a case of mistaken identity.
All three spoke in Spanish, accompanied by a translator, and would not comment on their immigration status. They all said their cases are still pending in courts.
The report includes another story, from a woman under the pseudonym “Maria,” claiming to have been profiled by Atlanta police officers during a Moreland Avenue traffic stop in July 2013. She says the police claimed to have stopped for her for driving without a license - she admits that’s true - but that there was no way for them to know that. APD could not be reached for an immediate response.
The ACLU and GLAHR are calling for various reforms, but especially for the repeal or withdrawal from three particular programs. They include “287(g)” agreements, where cities and counties are voluntarily deputized by ICE to conduct detainers; “Secure Communities,” where jails check the immigration status of every inmate; and the 2011 law HB 87, which allows state and local cops to check the immigration status of anyone arrested for any reason. Several places around the nation, including Chicago and the entire state of California, have banned participation in the detainer program.
Those laws, Nicholls says, have “really created an atmosphere hostile to immigrants.”
The report, titled “Prejudice, Policing and Public Safety: The Impact of Immigration Hyper-Enforcement in the State of Georgia,” can be viewed here.
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