LatinaLista — Juana Villegas DeLaPaz, a Nashville, Tennessee resident, should be happily tired these days since the recent birth of her fourth child. And Villegas DeLaPaz is tired but it’s one derived of an emotional ordeal that has drained and depressed this 33-year-old mother — not because of her undocumented status, but because of what local law enforcement subjected her to as she was about to deliver her baby.
Juana Villegas DeLaPaz
Our thanks to Tim Chavez, publisher of Nashville-based Political Salsa who alerted Latina Lista to the fact that on July 3, 2008, Villegas DeLaPaz was pulled over by Berry Hill, TN police and, who during the course of being questioned, was found to not have a driver’s license and was subsequently arrested.
Acting as operatives of ICE’s 287(g) program, the Berry Hill police department is authorized to identify those persons who may be undocumented immigrants for deportation proceedings — AFTER they’ve been arrested.
Yet, in a review of what Berry Hill police did on the eve of our nation’s Independence Day, it is clear that their actions violated the purpose of 287(g) and needlessly subjected Villegas DeLaPaz to such emotional terror that it caused her to go into labor and endure the next few days of unspeakable treatment at the hands of those entrusted to protect their communities.
According to ICE’s own definition of the 287(g):
What is the program designed to do?
The 287(g) program is designed to enable state and local law enforcement personnel, incidental to a lawful arrest and during the course of their normal duties, to question and detain individuals for potential removal from the United States , if these individuals are identified as undocumented illegal aliens and they are suspected of committing a state crime.
What is the program not designed to do?
The 287(g) program is not designed to allow state and local agencies to perform random street operations. It is not designed to impact issues such as excessive occupancy and day laborer activities. In outlining the program, ICE representatives have repeatedly emphasized that it is designed to identify individuals for potential removal, who pose a threat to public safety, as a result of an arrest and /or conviction for state crimes. It does not impact traffic offenses such as driving without a license unless the offense leads to an arrest.
As stated earlier, Villegas DeLaPaz didn’t have a valid driver’s license but she did have two other pieces of documentation that should have sufficed and garnered her only a written citation: a valid vehicle registration sticker and a consulate photo identification.
With these two pieces of documentation, it should have been enough to let her go with a citation, especially since the officers saw her advanced stages of pregnancy. Yet, in this climate of zero tolerance and zero common sense, they chose to use her lack of a driver’s license as cause to arrest her, though 287 (g) guidelines explicitly say the individual should “pose a threat to public safety” and “does not impact traffic offenses such as driving without a license.”
Once they arrested her and started proceedings, Villegas DeLaPaz went into labor. What followed is both disturbing, outrageous and beneath what the U.S.A. used to stand for.
According Poltical Salsa:
Villegas DeLaPaz was arrested, incarcerated and forced to go through labor under armed guard handcuffed to by her wrist and ankle to a hospital bed. When she arrived at the hospital, the nurse asked the accompanying officer to step outside while Villegas DeLaPaz changed into her hospital gown – he refused, forcing Villegas DeLaPaz to unclothe before him.
Then she was shackled on her legs whenever she went to the bathroom. The nurse asked that the shackles be removed because she wanted Villegas DeLaPaz to be able to clean up after childbirth and do other hygiene to prevent infection. Again, the attending officer refused.
Her newborn was taken from her and did not receive needed breast milk for several days. She was re-jailed and denied a breast pump to express her milk. Nurses attending her were crying. She could not sleep in the jail because of the intense pain from her swollen breasts.
She was not allowed to call her family so her husband could be with her for the birth.
By the police department’s own admission, Villegas DeLaPaz endured more days in jail than she should have because of the 4th of July holidays.
The Berry Hill police department is not making apologies for their actions but instead are portraying themselves as compassionate because they surrendered Villegas DeLaPaz to her family instead of deporting her.
Chances are they realized that if they deported her their public image would have sunk so low that it would have been a public relations nightmare to rectify it.
However, the Berry Hill police department’s actions underscore why it is dangerous to put a federal program in the hands of local law enforcement who either may be required to fulfill quotas or show superiors “progress” in justifying the expense of paying their salaries while they were offsite receiving training.
No matter the reason, the Berry Hill police department’s abuse of the 287(g) program calls for an immediate suspension of the program by ICE until a proper investigation can be conducted to determine if the program was abused in implementing it and, if so, a fine should be levied against the department and/or a revised supervision of the program be implemented.
In their haste and zeal to “authorize” local law enforcement to act as branches of federal authority for them, ICE has done nothing to hold those local law agencies accountable for abuses such as this.
It is time they did before more atrocities against nonviolent, low-level violators of U.S. law are treated like death row criminals.