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Should We Be Ticketing People For Not Speaking English?

by Jacquelyn Mahendra on 10/27/2009 at 8:20am

inclusive community signSo, now we’re ticketing people for not speaking English? No, really.

Daphne Eviatar of the Washington Independent reports:

Dallas police wrongly ticketed at least 39 drivers for not speaking English over the last three years, reports the Dallas Morning News.

It seems Dallas police were confused when, after pulling drivers over for other suspected violations, the police checked their in-car computers and a pull-down menu listed the “non-English speaking driver” charge as an option. The violation actually referred to a federal law governing commercial drivers that the Dallas police now say they don’t even enforce. However, at least 39 non-commercial drivers were fined $204 for their limited language skills.

Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle said on Friday that they would be reimbursed.

As Eviatar points out, this certainly raises serious questions about the controversial 287(g) agreements– partnerships in which local cops are now enforcing federal immigration law:

Although Dallas police don’t seem to have been attempting to enforce any immigration laws in these incidents, there’s a parallel to the ongoing controversy over a federal program that allows local police around the country who stop Latinos for minor traffic violations to check their legal status, then turn them over to federal immigration authorities for deportation if they can’t prove they’re in the United States legally.

The federal program, known as 287(g), deputizes some local police to enforce federal immigration law. But abuse of that power, often due to similar misunderstandings by local police officers, has at times led to the deportation of legal U.S. residents and even citizens, and prompted angry complaints from immigrants’ advocates.

This 287(g) program has been abused most prominently by the likes of racial profiler Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Larger issues of local immigration enforcement aside, this ticketing nonsense begs the question, what kind of United States of America do we want to live in? Should my grandmother, who lived here most of my life but could barely carry on a conversation in English, have been ticketed for speaking Hindi? I hope the answer is, unequivocally, no.

I love this country, and we have to do better than this.

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