CHICAGO – On Aug. 14, a vanload of Latino immigrants from Chicago were traveling on the Pennsylvania turnpike, near Pittsburgh. The nine travelers, mostly Mexican nationals, were on their way to a conference of day laborers when the van blew a tire. To their relief, a Pennsylvania state trooper pulled his car over to offer help, they assumed. But instead the cop demanded to see identification papers, not only for the driver but for all the passengers.

The driver showed the policeman a valid license, insurance card and registration, but the officer scoffed, saying “you people” always have fake documents, and demanded to see green cards (permanent resident alien visas) for all the passengers.

Three people – two Mexican men and a Bolivian woman – could not produce these “micas” and were immediately arrested and taken to a detention facility in York, Pa.

According to the woman, Julieta Bolivar, the immigration authorities told her that if she did not immediately sign a voluntary departure card (agreeing to leave the U.S. voluntarily) her three children would be taken away from her and made wards of the state. Seeing no choice and having no access to an attorney, she signed. The two men were put behind bars, with a bail of $5,000 each, even though neither had police records.

This obvious case of racial profiling has led to indignation and protests here, as friends and relatives work to raise the bail money and as Chris Bergin, an immigrant rights attorney, works to get a break for all three.

At a Sept. 16 rally in Chicago’s pre-dominantly Mexican neighborhood, elected officials showed up to express their support for the three immigrants, to demand an end to racial profiling and to call for the legalization of all undocumented immigrants.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) officiated at the rally and press conference. With his arms around Mrs. Bolivar’s three children, he pointed out that their mother not only worked and paid taxes in Illinois for years, she had served on two different Local School Councils. He added that the two Mexican immigrants who remain locked up are also among the millions of immigrants who have been building up the U.S. economy.

Cook County Commissioner Roberto Maldonado pledged a $1,000 contribution towards the bail fund. Daniel Solis, a member of the Chicago City Council, followed with a pledge of $500.

Sin Fronteras leader Emma Lozano, whose organization is providing the attorney, blasted the obvious profiling and questioned the Bush administration’s commitment to human rights. “What are the rights of these three kids who are born U.S. citizens?”

She added that if the government gets its way, either these children, who have done nothing wrong, will be taken from their mother or they will be deported along with her in spite of the fact they are U.S. citizens. Lozano emphasized the importance of fighting for the legalization of all undocumented workers.

Dolores Moreno, wife of one of the York prisoners, appealed to the crowd to help get her husband out, as she says he reports he is being badly treated and is losing weight.

Bergin told the World the fact that the van and its passengers were searched only because of their Latino appearance raises a Fourth Amendment question about unreasonable searches and seizures. He and his clients intend to fight deportation on that basis.

If they are successful, there will be national repercussions because it will suggest not only that any search carried out based on racial profiling is illegal, but also that evidence gathered from such a search (“fruit of the poisoned tree”) can not be introduced in court.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org

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