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'Poli-Migra': New Spanish Word for Blurred Line Between Police and ICE

La Raza, News Report, Fabiola Pomareda Posted: Sep 02, 2008

Traduccin al espaol

Editor's Note: A new police tactic has caused alarm among Chicagos immigrant community. The term poli-migra has emerged in the local Spanish lexicon to reflect ongoing police efforts that have blurred the lines between local, state and federal authority. Immigrants from Latin American countries detained by Chicago police officers for minor infractions are increasingly ending up in immigration hold status. Fabiola Pomareda reports for Chicago's La Raza newspaper.

CHICAGO -- After spending almost an entire year behind bars, Arturo Trujillo was finally a free man. In June 2007, Trujillo was arrested for battery, having been accused of participating in a brawl with three other men. The charges were eventually dropped at the beginning of May - Trujillo had acted in self-defense - but the Mexican immigrant would spend three more weeks in jail, waiting for immigration officials to sign his release pending a separate court date regarding his immigration status.

The same thing happened to Luis Len, a Mexican immigrant released on bail last week after being arrested Feb. 14 for driving without a license.

Last May, members of the March 10 Movement, a Chicago immigrant rights group, along with pastor Jos Landaverde of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Cook County Commissioner Roberto Maldonado, accused officials from the Chicago Police Department (CPD), Sheriff's Office for Cook County and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of dragging their feet on cases involving both documented and undocumented immigrants. Some were innocent. Others should have been freed on bond. But as the cases piled up, for the defendants, justice was less than swift.

Family members began looking for help. Their offers to post bail were rejected.

Both the city of Chicago and Cook County have sanctuary ordinances on the books that prevent arresting officers from asking detainees their immigration status during routine stops. Officers are also forbidden from reporting suspected illegal immigrants to federal authorities unless the detainees are official suspects in ongoing criminal investigations.

Serving time without a sentence

Landaverde and members of the March 10 Movement have documented 59 cases so far of Hispanic immigrants who have been placed on immigration hold, a shadowy status that begs the question: What is happening with their cases?

If you are arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, the judge suspends your license, gives you a fine and releases you, said Jorge Mjica, member of the March 10 Movement. But in these cases, (someone) is saying to them, You arent going anywhere because youre on immigration hold. The problem here is that regardless of the charge being brought against them and regardless of a judges order, there is a second procedure that orders their detention due to their illegal status, Mjica explained.

In June, Cook County Sheriffs Office spokesperson Penny Mateck told La Raza, The agency that arrests a person, in this (Trujillo) case the Chicago Police Department, is the agency thats responsible for contacting ICE, which then initiates the immigration status proceedings against the detainee.

After being cleared of charges or posting bail, a detainee is held until being transferred to the custody of ICE, often resulting in lengthy delays. According to the Cook County Sheriffs Office, ICE has 48 hours to take custody of a detainee; otherwise the person should be released.

Mateck blamed the delay in releasing Trujillo on a breakdown in communication between the sheriffs office and ICE. We were using a broader interpretation of the 48-hour rule. But weve made changes and now we are using more conservative criteria, the spokeswoman said.

But according to Cook County Commissioner Maldonado, The Chicago Police Department is violating its own order that says they can't report anyone to ICE unless that person is involved in a criminal investigation. How are they going to report someone to ICE for a civil violation like driving through a red light? Maldonado asked.

The basic problem here lies with whoever it is that starts the ball rolling by reporting an undocumented person to ICE for an infraction that is not criminal, the commissioner said.

Public hearing gets hot

Since the issue has come to light, officials have been scrambling to reassure residents that past missteps by police have been corrected. On Aug. 5, the Chicago City Councils Human Relations Committee held a public meeting called by aldermen William Ocasio (D-26) and Daniel Sols (D-25), who have two of the citys biggest Hispanic constituencies.

CPD patrol captain and first deputy superintendent Beatrice Cuello assured residents, We dont notify ICE, except when we are conducting a criminal investigation.

Cuello also said police recently began working with the Mexican Consulate in Chicago to produce a video that will inform undocumented immigrants of their rights if stopped by police. Police brochures will also be translated to Spanish.

We want our immigrant community to know that we are here to serve them and that Chicago is a safe refuge, she said.

Alderman Sols wants a stronger commitment from police officers, and he is pushing for them to sign a contract stating that they understand the sanctuary ordinance and that there will be consequences for officers who violate it.

Place of birth

Nevertheless, CPD Internal Affairs chief Tina Skahill said, Every officer asks detainees where they were born, because its a standard question to identify suspects. When a person was born in another country, that information is included in the police report because a person could be confused with a criminal with the same name, but born in a different place, Skahill said.

Mjica disagrees. Asking someone their place of birth only adds confusion. I have two nationalities. I wasnt born here, but I am a U.S. citizen, he said.

Maldonado, the county commissioner, also thinks the question is irrelevant. Im not a public safety officer, but as a public and private person, I have to wonder why it is important to ask (a persons birthplace). In my opinion that question should only be asked when there is a criminal investigation, he said.

We have to draw the line somewhere, he added.

Agents prowl courthouse

Responding to the polemic, ICE spokesperson Gail Montenegro sent La Raza a written statement saying that every day of the week three federal agents are assigned to the Cook County Courthouse. Their duties include reviewing police reports of the previous days detentions.

We review the files of those subjects who appear before a bail bond judge. ICE reviews all the reports that indicate a detainee was born outside the U.S. to determine those individuals that are subject to deportation. This is done before the bail hearing and independent of their nationality, Montenegro wrote.

ICE then determines if an immigration hold should be placed on detainees who are criminals, and priority is given to those convicted of serious crimes, those who have been deported previously, or those who have a pending deportation order, the statement explained.

Montenegro also said ICE does not have a policy of racial profiling. Rather, the agency has a Criminal Alien Program that seeks to ensure that foreign criminals are processed for deportation after completing their sentences rather than be released to the street.

In response to ICEs statement, Maldonado complained of a systematic pattern followed by the agency that has allowed ICE officials to penetrate Cook Countys criminal justice system by placing agents in court rooms during bail hearings.

Cook County State's Attorney spokesman John Gorman told La Raza that police reports and case files are public documents available in court rooms to public officials, whether for parole agents, police officers or immigration officials.

(ICE agents) are looking at public information that is available to personnel from law enforcement agencies. Theyre not looking at our databases or computers, Gorman said.

Unanswered questions

What happens next is unclear. The city councils Human Relations Committee will issue a report as soon as they receive results from an internal inquiry from the police department, said Alderman Ocasios assistant, Hctor Villagrana. No one is sure when the CPD internal review will be completed.

In the meantime, the sheriffs office sent a report to Commissioner Maldonado documenting the number of persons placed in immigration hold from April to August this year. Out of 253 cases, 229 are Hispanic, most of them of Mexican descent.

Translated by David Boddiger

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