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Racial profiling in Georgia a microscosm of whats happening all over the U.S.

As the dust settles around the 200,000 March for America in D.C. this weekend, it is important to remind ourselves why we need immigration reform. A new report by the ACLU is one such reminder of racial profiling that is alive and kicking in the United States. As one of the most unconstitutional implications of our broken immigration system, racial profiling takes place when police stop, interrogate, and detain people on the basis of their appearance, accent or general perceived ethnicity, rather than on the basis of concrete evidence of criminal activity.

Called “The Persistence of Racial Profiling in Gwinnett: Time for Accountability, Transparency, and an End to 287(g),” the report uses individual testimonies from the community to examine the persistence of racial profiling in Gwinnett County, Georgia, before and after the introduction of the 287(g) program that partners local law enforcement with federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to enforce immigration law. Dedicated to the brave undocumented students walking the Trail of Dreams who marched into this “risky” 287(g) county, the report focuses on Sheriff Conway known as the “Joe Arpaio of the South”, who claimed that November 16th, 2009 or the day that the 287(g) program officially took off in Gwinnett County “was a great day for Gwinnett County citizens.”

Racial profiling has always been prevalent in Gwinnett County. In a case that took place before the implementation of 287(g), a woman named Mary Babington witnessed two police officers stop a white Sedan and pull out two Latino men at gun-point, shouting at them the entire time. They were then cuffed and made to lie on the ground, shirtless. One of the men was crying and asked the officer for his shirt, saying he felt cold. The officer then kicked him on his back and yelled at him not to move. Mary then heard one officer boast to the other -

They wouldn’t come out when I pulled my gun, so I sprayed the whole can of pepper spray. I emptied the whole can on them…Dude, I emptied the can in his face. I love my job.

According to the witness, Mary, the officers did not tell the men why they had been stopped, and did not read the men their rights at any point. Finally the officers administered a breathalyzer test and gave one of them a ticket for driving under the influence.

The implementation of the 287 (g) program has only exacerbated racial profiling. Many people of color have been stopped, interrogated, detained and even abused based on minor traffic violations even though 287(g) is supposed to be implemented to catch serious criminals. Some were stopped without any probable cause and never given an explanation.

A case in point is the testimony of Juan, a 48-year maintenance technician who is a legal permanent resident, entitled to live and work in the U.S. In the last year he has been stopped by local police on two different occasions, both times without any legal basis. On the most recent occasion, a Gwinnett police officer asked Juan to pull over as he was driving home from work. Despite him asking the officer five times why he was being stopped, he was given no answer. Instead the officer continuously screamed at him for asking questions and asked him for his driver’s license, which he handed over. Juan was eventually released without a citation but never found out why he had been pulled over and detained. He is now constantly worried about such an event recurring and avoids driving in certain areas of Gwinnett County.

In a podcast interview, Azadeh Shahshahani from the ACLU talks about the ways in which the 287(g) program has been extremely harmful for the 70 jurisdictions in which it operates. Local profiling has threatened public safety so that instead of trusting the local police, people are increasingly afraid to approach them, creating a dangerous communication barrier between local law enforcement and the community. In addition to diverting resources, the 287(g) program employs local police officers who are not trained in making immigration and status determinations, resulting in them restoring to their perceived notions about people’s race, ethnicity and accent.

While 50% of U.S. states have enacted legislation against racial profiling, legislation is still pending for Georgia. According to Azadeh -

In Georgia the problem is compounded because not only is there not any meaningful federal oversight, but there is also no oversight at the local or county level that we have seen…One of our main recommendations would be for law enforcement to revert to a policy of having federal immigration laws enforced only by federal immigration officials, and leave police to the job of protecting our communities.

So what’s the best outcome? Lacking training and oversight, stop 287(g) program all over the country. Document all the stops that are being made in the name of the program to check for patterns of racial profiling. And pass anti-racial profiling legislation so everyone is protected.

Photo courtesy of acluga.org

POLL: Do you feel the 287(g) program increases racial profiling?

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The Trail of Dreams encounters the KKK

On January 1st, four courageous students embarked on a 1500-mile symbolic walk from Miami to Washington D.C. to strengthen and inspire the immigration movement. Inspired by the idea of non-violent resistance, the Trail of Dreams has been joined by hundreds of inspired folks who walk along with the students in small towns and cities, to stand together for the passage of the DREAM Act.

But Felipe, Gabby, Carlos and Juan have also met with their share of challenges along the way. Coping with limited resources, finding shelter at each stop on their journey, and being away from their families for four months, they have also had to contend with some opposition to their cause. Now in the deep south, the most recent, and decidedly the most jarring of these, has been their encounter with the Ku Klux Klan in Nahunta, Georgia last week.

Yes, we too thought the KKK had no place outside of the embarrassments of history. Apparently we were all wrong on that. While the group is not very strong or active nowadays, there are still a few thousand Klan members scattered around the country, 50 of whom decided to hold a rally “against the Latino invasion” in Georgia at the same time that the “dreamwalkers” were passing through the area. One of the students, 20 year old Juan Rodriguez, wrote about the encounter on the Trail of Dreams blog -

Today we drove to Nahunta, GA where the Ku Klux Klan was organizing an anti-immigrant demonstration, under the premise that “God put each race in their respective continent and they were meant to stay there”. I can’t help but keep being amused by these concepts that the very organization can’t seem to be able to uphold appropriately. Is the KKK secretly on a campaign to reclaim all lands back for the indigenous people of North America and preparing for the voyage back to Europe? I find this highly unlikely….It is disappointing that after so many years of social reformation, we still have organizations filled with so much hate convening and gaining the support of communities….Ultimately, the success of today was to be able to stand hand in hand with our friends from the NAACP; singing liberation songs together and acknowledging our united struggle for racial justice. We ALL deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

It seems unacceptable that while the walkers and the NAACP (who had organized a rally to counter the KKK) were promoting tolerance, dignity, and humanity, the KKK were propagating hatred and racism. And it’s far from over. After completing 600 miles of their walk, the four students are in a part of the country that is notorious for its anti-immigrant sentiment. This week they will enter Gwinnett County, Georgia, home of Sheriff Conway, known for his anti-immigrant stance.

It takes a lot of courage and determination to do what the dreamwalkers are doing and that’s why they need your support. Check where your Member of Congress stands on immigration reform and let them know what you think about it.

UPDATE: Yesterday we had mentioned that the Trail of Dreams walkers were going to be passing through a very risky area, Gwinnett County, which is a 287(g) county that is home to Sheriff Conway, also known as the “Joe Arpaio of the South.” Sheriff Conway is notorious for having racially profiled and arrested many immigrants, documented and undocumented, in the past few months. We need you to support them right now, more than ever, by monitoring their progress, spreading the word, blogging, and garnering support for them. Today, we found out that the students walked into the Gwinnett County courthouse and demanded to speak to Sheriff today. And they did while wearing shirts emblazoned with the word “UNDOCUMENTED.” Rather than face them, Sheriff Conway opted to have one of his subordinates deal with the walkers. In sum, Conway backed away from doing what he does to immigrants in Gwinnett County on a daily basis: arrest and help deport them.

Photo courtesy of trail2010.org