A new report found that African-American and Latino drivers in at least two Georgia counties are more likely to be pulled over by police than white drivers.
Because of a law passed in 2008, people driving without a state-issued I.D. face jail time.
The Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) and Advancement Project released their report looking at Fayette County, Houston County and the city of Roswell at the State Capitol last week as Hispanic immigrants living in the country without legal permission shared their stories.
Heavy Fines Reported
Ignacio Portillo of Fayette County was pulled over on March 22 at 7:43 a.m. for “failure to dim headlights.” He paid $1,368.75 for driving without a license and $40 for the traffic violation.
In 2015, Portillo was arrested for his second offense of driving without a license. He was sentenced to five weeks in jail and one year of probation. He was also charged a $1,600 fine and had to pay $600 for probation.
Adelina Nicholls, executive director of GLAHR, said the law is hurting people who are often living in poverty by keeping head of households from working and imposing heavy fines.
“We have cases of people being punished with four months in jail because of no driver’s license, but the other part of this is they are paying two to three thousand dollars to the county,” Nicholls said.
The report said between 2011 and 2015, Houston County reported it collected $6 million from fines imposed on those driving without a license.
Fayette and Houston counties and the city of Roswell have disproportionately higher rates of poverty among African-American and Latino families, and according to a report, are more likely to be targeted for traffic violations.
Credit Courtesy of GLAHR
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“I know that a lot of the argument is that we as a community need to understand that’s the law and we must obey the law, but we’re here to ask that the politicians understand this is becoming a for-profit business and they are making money off our communities,” said Antonia Lozano of Fayette County, through a translator.
Lozano said she paid a $7,000 bond for her son after he was arrested for driving without a license.
She said even after he was in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody and deported to Mexico, Fayette County police officers would visit her home on a nearly daily basis to ask where her son was. She moved to a new residence to stop the visits.
Many Report Fear Of Deportation
Nicholls said she began to study the higher rates of traffic arrests between June 2011 and 2015 for drivers of color in Middle Georgia’s Houston County, Fayette County and the city of Roswell after receiving a high volume of calls from those jurisdictions to GLAHR’s hotline.
She said the hotline was opened in 2007 after immigrants living in the country without legal permission said family members with no prior criminal history were getting deported.
Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act allows the Department of Homeland Security to have select state and local law enforcement officers perform the functions of federal immigration agents.
“This law is far-reaching and its intent goes well beyond its anti-immigrant intent. The marrying of local police agencies with federal immigration enforcement like 287(g) programs are dangerous,” said senior attorney Flavia Jimenez at the Advancement Project. “In Fayette County, I heard of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) in children as a result of the felony driving law. The monetary policies are driving these families further and further into poverty.”
Arrests, By The Numbers
In the city of Roswell, 13 percent of the population is Hispanic, but they made up 63 percent of all traffic arrests between 2011 and 2015.
“People of color across the state of Georgia experience high rates of racial profiling and excessive fines and fees,” said R. Eujenia Osoria of Southerners on New Ground. “While this report gives us new information on what racial profiling looks like in our state, we know that this is not a new phenomenon.”
In Fayette County, 21 percent of the population is African-American, but they made up more than 65 percent of all traffic arrests between 2011 and 2015. In Houston County, 28 percent of the population is African-American, but they also made up nearly 65 percent of all traffic arrests.
“Due to racial profiling and implicit and explicit bias, people of color often come into contact with police officers through traffic stops,” the report said. “In the Latino community, the frequency and intensity of police encounters have led to a significant fear amongst communities who feel harassed by police officers waiting outside of residential areas for people conducting their everyday driving, like commuting to work or taking their children to a doctor’s appointment.”
The city of Roswell police department, Fayette County and Houston County sheriff’s offices did not respond to requests for comment.