Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Visaless pregnancy, two Nashville law enforcement agencies put city under national scrutiny

Berry Hill officer, Davidson County Sheriff's department draw questions, ire over arrest, jail stay, and entry into 287(g) system of Juana Villegas

Tim Chávez files Amnesty International complaint, warns against visits to Music City

Backlash over restraints

The New York Times reported Sunday on the Berry Hill arrest and Davidson County incarceration of a visaless, pregnant Juana Villegas*, who gave birth while in custody. Villegas is a current resident of Nashville who has lived in the U.S. as far back as 1996** and is originally from Las Cajones, Guerrero, Mexico.

Tim Chávez, the former Tennessean columnist who started his own blog Political Salsa in May of this year, brought local and national attention to the story of Villegas' arrest and, particularly, the restrictions over her and her baby during her incarceration. Chávez filed a complaint with Amnesty International and has promised to warn everyone he encounters outside the city not to visit Nashville, until state lawmakers step in (original post here).

Most of the voices crying foul in and outside Nashville are calling into question the restrictions over Villegas' movements while in the late stages of labor and delivery, as well as her ability to be with her child - which have all been defended by the Sheriff's department as standard procedures regarding a pregnant woman in custody. The practice and the policy are being described by the growing list of critics as a human rights violation that far exceeds the boundaries of humane and reasonable conduct.

Metro policy: citation, not arrest, with I.D.

The fact that Villegas was arrested at all is one that has dismayed local immigration advocates, including Gregg Ramos, who is trying to keep ordinary immigrants out of the local crackdown on illegal immigration and has been quoted in a few stories including the New York Times piece. The general understanding among advocates like Ramos is that an officer's decision to arrest a person turns on whether that person can be identified. In May, Metro police chief Ronal Serpas confirmed this to the Tennessean:
[I]t has long been our policy, as provided by Tennessee law, to issue arrest citations whenever possible. Officers have no choice but to make physical arrests in cases where the defendants cannot or will not offer satisfactory evidence of identification. Unlicensed persons who choose to drive without proof of identification will be arrested regardless of race or ethnicity.
In Villegas' case, she had on her person a photo I.D. with her name on it, issued by her country's consulate. According to the New York Times piece, her immigration status was neither checked nor confirmed until after she was arrested:
After Mrs. Villegas was taken to the Davidson County jail, a federal immigration agent working there as part of the cooperation agreement conducted a background check. It showed that Mrs. Villegas was an illegal immigrant who had been deported once from the United States in March 1996, Karla Weikal, a spokeswoman for the county sheriff, said. She had no other criminal record.
If Berry Hill officers are arresting people instead of giving them citations in the hope that their immigration status will be checked by the Davidson County Sheriff once in custody, that could be driven by racial profiling, which is illegal by statute in Tennessee as of this year. Reporting on this story has been too light to draw any real conclusions. One would want to know what the standards are for arrests in Berry Hill (a different police department from Serpas' department, even though both are inside the shared boundaries of Metro Nashville/Davidson County), and what information is available to Berry Hill officers on the street at the time the arrest-or-citation decision is made, and how that analysis was made in this case in particular.

287(g) designed with dangerous criminals in mind, but 80% of charges are for misdemeanors

The reason advocates want ordinary immigrants to stay out of the Davidson County jail, and therefore out of the 287(g) system, is that they say the program was promoted as a weapon against violent criminals. One of the sources listed below has a more recent quote from Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE"), but when asked about a similar case in 2006 in which a Nashville woman was thrown into jail after a minor traffic offense, ICE spokeswomen Temple Black told the Tennessean here that the result was puzzling:
Temple Black, spokesman for ICE [formerly known as INS] in the Southeast, seems puzzled that Metro law enforcement would expend resources on busting undocumented workers who aren’t dangerous criminals. "What we are focused on is aggravated felons…. We don’t go down to the Shell Station and pick up [undocumented workers]."
Differentiating between ordinary immigrants and dangerous criminals was a point made by Rick Casares, in an interview here with HispanicNashville.com:
To my knowledge, we do not routinely jail those who jaywalk, litter, or trespass. At this time, mere presence without documents is not a crime, but is equivalent to a civil infraction like those listed above.
Casares also raised the possibility of human rights abuses:
Once we single out a portion of our population and determine that they are unworthy of basic human rights, it becomes easier and easier to justify.
When asked about the program before its implementation in this interview with HispanicNashville.com, Sheriff Hall advised that even misdemeanors offenders who are only issued a citation would be run through the system, but he could not predict the numbers of ordinary immigrants vs. dangerous criminals who would be processed as part of 287(g).

The number turned out to be 80% misdemeanors, 20% more serious violations (story here).

Roundup of coverage

Here is a sampling of the local coverage of Villegas' story:
Political Salsa: "Go to www.nytimes.com and read about the embarrassment brought to Metro Nashville by its sheriff, mayor and congressman"

Tiny Cat Pants: "One Last Things about Juana Villegas DeLaPaz"

GingerSnaps: "Outraged"

Women's Health News: "New York Times Covers Treatment of Juana Villegas DeLaPaz"

NewsChannel5: "Police Claim Legitimate Arrest; Woman Clams Racial Profiling"

WKRN: "Hispanic woman claims racial discrimination"

Nashville Post: "Eager To Hit That 287(g) Pinata"

Nashville Post & Nashville City Paper: "School board candidate arresting officer in controversial 287(g) case"
Here is some of the national coverage:
Associated Press by former Tennessean reporter Travis Loller

Beyond Chron: "Out of Public Limelight, U.S. War on Immigrants Intensifies "

Blue Collar Muse: "Tim Chavez on Nashville’s 287g-estapo"

The Curvature: "Immigrant Woman Abused By Government While Giving Birth"

Daily Kos: "Woman Gives Birth Under Torture: Homeland Security Hell"

Dream Act Texas: "Juana Villegas Part IV"

Delaware Libertarian: "Is this where the debate over immigration has taken us--to complete dehumanization?"

Latino Político: "Shackled Like An Animal During Labor"

National Immigrant Justice Center: "Detained immigrant woman shackled during labor"

National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health: "The Inhumane Treatment Towards Juana Villegas DeLaPaz (Nashville, TN)"

Our Bodies Ourselves: "Appalling Treatment of Jailed Pregnant Immigrant"

Standing FIRM: "Shackled While Giving Birth - Police Abuse 287(g)"

Vivir Latino: "Human Rights Abuses Against Pregnant Undocumented Workers"
*Due to the different rules for Latin American surnames and U.S. surnames, Villegas has also been identified by her mother's surname, de la Paz, so you will also see her identified as "Juana Villegas de la Paz" or "Juana Delapaz," depending on the U.S. source.

**The New York Times reported that Villegas has lived in the U.S. since 1996. Various sources have reported that Villegas was deported in 1996. It is not clear how long Villegas had been living in the U.S. before her 1996 deportation and how soon after her removal she returned.

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