Friday, June 20, 2008

"Suspiciously frequent" traffic stops drive Hispanic U.S. citizens out of Robertson County

When your neighbors don't see you as an American anymore, it's hardly a place you can call home

"People in Tennessee are scared of the police, and people in other states think we're racists."

The Tennessean reports here that Robertson County has lost a U.S. citizen couple due to "suspiciously frequent" traffic stops. The couple is Hispanic, and Robertson County is one of the Middle Tennessee counties where local law enforcement is introducing new and possibly overreaching immigration bureaucracies. has reported previously on how Nashville's reputation for southern hospitality is threatened when immigration enforcement efforts turn into a free-for-all against Hispanics in general (story here), and how cities with cold racial and ethnic climates can suffer an exodus of residents and become less attractive to big employers (like Nissan) who are looking to relocate (story here).

From the Tennessean story (I would disagree that the impact was unexpected):
The Rev. Tommy Vallejos, executive director of Clarksville-based HOPE, a Middle Tennessee Hispanic Advocacy organization, said he is concerned about Robertson County's two-step policy because officers must work from their suspicions without training in immigration matters. He said deputies have not managed to target "dangerous criminals" exclusively.

And the policy has had an impact that may not have been expected, he said. A Latino U.S. citizen couple Vallejos knows recently left Robertson County, tired of suspiciously frequent traffic stops, he said. And a Latino woman born in Texas considering a move to Middle Tennessee recently called Vallejos with questions about the area he wishes he didn't have to answer.

"This can't be good for Tennessee," he said. "People in Tennessee are scared of the police, and people in other states think we're racists."
The official in charge of the new Robertson County policy is Sheriff Gene Bollinger, who was President of the Tennessee Sheriffs' Association in 2006.

What Hispanic advocates like Vallejos demand, and what Hispanic citizens in general need, are for departments like Bollinger's to protect the public from sloppy police practices that result in, among other things, overzealous traffic stops and arbitrary enforcement based on the way a person looks. If it happens at all, it is a problem for Bollinger to weed out, even if the wrongdoing is not prevalent (in a testament to law enforcement in Robertson County, a previous directive from the Coopertown mayor to target Hispanics for traffic tickets seems to have been ignored - see paragraph about Coopertown here).

Also, most Hispanic and immigrant advocates believe that dangerous criminals should be the focus of immigration enforcement efforts, and not ordinary immigrants without visas, the vast majority of whom are in violation of a law only due to their having a job and not by causing public safety problems. The status quo blanket enforcement attempts, which even when catching criminals lean 80% toward misdemeanors, drain law enforcement resources away from what could be better targeted efforts against violent criminals who truly threaten the public.

Revisiting and revising local immigration practices would not only benefit the residents of Robertson County but would also ensure that Nashville's reputation for hospitality carries into the surrounding counties. What nobody needs is an intended or unintended hostility toward any ethnic group, caused by an indiscriminate attitude toward immigration.

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