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Federal and Local Law Enforcement Run Risk of Violating Legal Latinos’ Rights

LatinaLista — It was anticipated this was going to happen — federal immigration agents in their zeal to round up undocumented immigrants make a mistake and subject legal Latinos to the kind of kick-in-the-door, gun-in-your-face behavior usually reserved for hardened criminals.

Marie Justeen Mancha

But it happened in all its ferocity to 15-year-old, Georgia-born Marie Justeen Mancha. Back in September when Justeen was getting ready for school, federal immigration agents stormed her South Georgia house without a warrant.

“And one was holding a gun,” Justeen said. “And that really scared me. And they were screaming, ‘Illegals,’ and ‘Mexicans,’ and stuff like that. And they asked me if I was illegal, and I said, ‘No.'”

Well, what the undocumented cannot do, Justeen can – she and four other U.S.-born Latinos of South Georgia are suing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for conducting raids in South Georgia and targeting anyone of Hispanic descent, just to catch undocumented immigrants.

The group is being represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Justeen’s mother, who was also born in the United States, has asked ICE why her house.

ICE has not responded.

To me, it was very unfair what happened to us,” she said. “And, yes, you know, I felt like they violated our rights. We are U.S. citizens, you know, and we are like everybody else, pay taxes, and stuff. And, to me, just because they see Mexicans, Hispanics, skin color, they think, you know, everybody’s [illegally] from Mexico.”

And that is the point.

Thanks to this hysteria sweeping the country, courtesy of politicians and pundits, legal Latinos’ rights will be violated and with no apology from the government. Yet, many cities and towns aren’t even waiting around for the immigration agents to come sweep their towns.

They plan on screening Latinos themselves.

And it leads to the question, just how can law enforcement officials tell the difference between Latinos who are legal or undocumented when they can’t even tell the difference between real and toy guns?

In an op-ed, I’ve tried to address this very point:

Emerging from the modest home she has shared with her great-aunt and cousins, to whom her mother entrusted at the age of 5, Alma looked like a typical 21-year-old.

She sported a soft summer tan that was a shade lighter than the intense brown of her eyes, her hair was neatly styled and she carried the slender physique of a running enthusiast. And when she spoke, a slight Texas drawl dangled from each word.

She looked and sounded totally American — Texan to boot.

“I don’t know Spanish,” she confessed almost embarrassed as we slid into our restaurant booth. “I used to want my great-aunt to speak to me in Spanish, but I would get so frustrated when I couldn’t understand that I would just cry for her to speak English.”

Those were my recollections, almost 6 years ago, I wrote in a column after meeting with a reader named Alma. The young girl, who planned to go to college on scholarship and become a sports agent, suddenly discovered on her 15th birthday that a mother who was long dead had brought her illegally to this country from Mexico, as a child.

The stereotypical image of an undocumented immigrant as a dark-skinned, Spanish-dominant, poorly educated “foreigner” didn’t fit Alma. Yet, now that she knew she was here illegally, she shared the same fears as every other illegally arrived immigrant. But to look at her and hear her struggle to pronounce simple Spanish words, you would never know she wasn’t supposed to be here.

Alma epitomizes the fiasco in-the-making by local cities and states, who in their claim of frustration with the federal government’s slow response to do something to combat illegal immigration, are taking matters into their own hands.

One approach that is gaining consideration is the empowerment of local and state law enforcement officers to also act as immigration agents.

By partnering with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under Section 287 (g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, local and state police receive training and oversight from ICE in enforcing federal immigration laws while conducting their regular duties.

As of now, ICE has signed seven 287 (g) operating agreements with state agencies and individual counties from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to California’s San Bernardino Sheriff’s department, according to ICE Communications department.

The 287(g) is currently being considered by additional cities and counties from Texas to West Virginia.

Though part of the mandatory training includes classes on anti-racial profiling laws and multi-cultural training, the crucial question still remains: How does one identify the difference between Latinos who are legal or illegal?

Ask them?

Depending on the length of time an undocumented immigrant is in the country, it’s a question that in their hearts will be answered truthfully, but technically will be a lie.

If it is hoped that an accent will be a natural give-away to a person’s legal status, that strategy will have to be reworked. My own grandmother, even after living here for 70 years and becoming a citizen, never lost her distinct north Mexican accent.

Or in the case of people like Alma who grew up here — none exist.

Think fashion will give citizenship status away?

Before the days of NAFTA, it was a little easier. Nowadays, fashion is truly the outer reflection of a person’s inner soul, rather than a compass revealing their point of origin.

So all that is left is to ask for ID, right?

But what if they are out jogging and didn’t carry their wallet? Or ran a quick errand to the store and forgot their license? Or just a passenger in a friend’s car and didn’t bring their purse?

Innocent scenarios that happen every day with no worries that they could end with sitting in the back of a police car.

It is a fine line between enforcing a law and violating a birthright, and one that runs the risk of being erased.

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