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A Ridgeland immigrant facing deportation will have a U.S. congressman on his side today when the two appear before Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities to argue that ICE should drop the case.
Known for his staunch support of immigration reform, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., will accompany 27-year-old Gabino Sanchez to his first appointment with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Sanchez was arrested by the Ridgeland Police Department after a traffic violation on Nov. 2 and was later placed on an ICE "hold," meaning that ICE is deciding whether he must leave the country because he is not documented.
Gutierrez will argue that Sanchez, who was brought to the United States as a teenager and who has two U.S.-born children, is not a high priority for deportation based on an ICE policy in June that states the agency should direct its resources toward deporting criminals.
Sanchez, who does not have criminal record and is the sole provider for young children who are citizens, does construction and landscaping work. He fits the bill for undocumented immigrants who should be spared by the new policy, Gutierrez spokesman Douglas Rivlin said.
Rivlin said the congressman became familiar with Sanchez' case after an appearance in Charleston on Nov. 20 to discuss South Carolina's new Arizona-style immigration law.
The state's law, scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, has been challenged by both the federal government and local groups, such as the Lowcountry Immigration Coalition. The U.S. Justice Department is seeking an injunction to prevent the law from taking effect.
The Justice Department argues that the federal government -- not states -- have the authority to set immigration policy. State officials, including Gov. Nikki Haley, contend in court filings that while the state's law concerns immigration, it does not set immigration policy.
A judge hasn't indicated when he will rule on the Justice Department's request for an injunction.
Gutierrez' Charleston appearance is part of a swing through more than 20 cities in the U.S., but his advocacy on behalf of a single person is unique, Rivlin said.
"It really shows how the new deportation policy should be used in a case like this in South Carolina," Rivlin said.
Sanchez' case also crystallizes a common complaint among the Ridgeland Hispanic community: That they are the victims of racial profiling by the Ridgeland Police Department.
Eric Esquivel, publisher of Hilton Head-based La Isla magazine and chairman of the Lowcountry Immigration Coalition, said he has collected about 300 complaints from Hispanics who live in Ridgeland over more than three years. Esquivel believes most of the complaints are legitimate, but acknowledges some are not.
They include Latinos who claim police set up checkpoints near predominately Hispanic neighborhoods, who pull Latinos over for minor traffic violations such as not keeping a turn signal on for long enough and who hold undocumented immigrants for longer than the 48-hour period during which ICE is supposed to pick them up.
The complaints came to a head at a Nov. 9 meeting organized by the Lowcountry Immigration Coalition held at St. Anthony's Catholic Church, which holds services in Spanish.
At the meeting, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is backing the coalition's lawsuit challenging the state's new law, collected more than two dozen signed affidavits alleging racial profiling from a crowd of more than 250 people, Esquivel said.
"It's gotten progressively worse as far as police targeting Hispanics," Esquivel said. "We shouldn't be using tax dollars and backing up the deportation system with people working hard to get citizenship."
Iris Young, head of the Hispanic ministry at St. Anthony's and Ridgeland chapter head for the Lowcountry Immigration Coalition, said she has also heard accounts of police targeting Hispanics. Young said she has seen police cars gather across the street on Sundays, causing parishioners to stay inside a little longer for fear of being pulled over.
"At this point, they are just allegations," she said. "It's hard for them to prove anything."
Ridgeland Police Chief Richard Woods said he had heard similar complaints but denied that his officers target Hispanics.
He said some complaints are due to a "cultural difference" when Hispanics believe they are being targeted because of routine checkpoints.
"They're in a hell of a position because they can't get a driver's license, but they're still trying to provide for their families," Woods said. "I don't know what to do for them. By the same token, the law requires everybody to have a driver's license, and we can't just pick and choose."
Woods said Sanchez was charged with speeding and disregarding a stop sign. He was also charged with speeding and having no state driver's license in 2005, Woods said.
Both times, he paid his fines and was released.
Woods said the Police Department did not report Sanchez to ICE.
"If he is deported on charges of a traffic violation from Ridgeland, I think that's pretty sad," Woods said. "I think we need to find something else to do than spend all that money to deport him. We've got a lot of other problems."
Gutierrez' advocacy on behalf of Sanchez will begin with a rally early this morning followed by a march to the ICE office, said Diana Salazar, president of the Latino Association of Charleston.
Gutierrez and organizers will present immigrations officials with the memo signed by ICE director John Morton calling for a better use of resources to target criminals -- not "dreamers," as Salazar called them, who are attending college, leading productive lives, have U.S.-born children or who are working toward citizenship.
"We are getting organized," Salazar said. "The Latino people of South Carolina are getting organized."
Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/BlufftonBlogIP.
- Federal government moves to block state's immigration law, Oct. 31, 2011
- Residents, groups sue over state's immigration law, Oct. 30, 2011
- State promoting small-business awareness of E-Verify in wake of new law, Oct. 25, 2011
- Lowcountry residents ask court to throw out S.C. immigration law, Oct. 19, 2011