An Uncertain Future

June 21, 2011

An uncertain future: A ‘love-hate’ relationship

Latinos fear ‘chaos’ with implementation of new law

DALTON — Raquel Uribe has applied for legal papers so her husband — who is not a U.S. citizen — can drive to work without fear of getting pulled over and taken to jail.

But will they arrive soon enough?

“What happens to my husband if he does not have the papers just yet?” she asked in advance of House Bill 87 — Georgia’s new immigration law — being implemented starting on July 1. “I’m concerned that (police) officers are not properly trained to determine who is documented and who is not. There are many different types of status. The officers won’t know who or who is not to be detained.”

Uribe was one of more than a dozen students learning English in a class on the east side of town Saturday afternoon. Some expressed concerns about being separated from their children if detained — and possibly deported. Others wondered what will happen if they — as legal citizens — are pulled over while unknowingly giving a ride to someone without documentation.

Will they be arrested also?

“I’ve been here 12 years in Dalton, this is my home now,” said Aradio Mendez. “But I’m concerned that (the authorities) will punish us not just because of traffic offenses, but for transporting relatives who may be here illegally just for now.”

But Police Chief Jason Parker said Dalton is ahead of the curve when it comes to immigration enforcement because of the 287(g) program — a joint venture between the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office and the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — that helps authorities identify “criminal aliens” who could be deported.

“As I understand the new law, I don’t think we’ll be doing anything different from an operational standpoint,” he said. “We currently do have the ability to check on somebody’s status if they’re involved in a crime. We don’t do that very often for several reasons. First of all, the sheriff’s office has 287(g) in place already, so our understanding is that anyone we arrest — which means they’ve committed a crime of some kind — the jail personnel check their status when they go in.”

Parker also said detectives “use ICE resources” in the course of their investigations.

“When the sun comes up on July 1, we’ll still be taking care of business in the same way that we have, and that is according to what the Constitution allows and what our strategic plan is, and we really don’t plan to change that. We feel like we’re being fair with the public and we feel like we’re enforcing the law fairly,” he said.

But a physician who has been here for years says a “humanitarian crisis” has erupted in the Latino community because of rumors spinning out about the new law.

“I can tell you that people are scared, they’re afraid (and) suffering traumatic stress over it,” said Dr. Pablo Perez, a native of Peru who has been in the U.S. since 1992 and in Dalton for 12 years. “From a medical point of view, I can tell you that people who have anxiety or mood disorders are suffering exacerbations of those problems. It’s affecting the entire Latino community, not only legal or illegal — but minorities such as Asians and other people of color. And it’s because of (HB 87), how it’s been proposed. People feel like it’s not fair and is dividing the community. We see people coming (into the clinic) and crying because one of the family members has been separated.

“Kids are afraid they’ll come home from school and not find their parents at home.”

Perez, who has been a U.S. citizen for five years, added, “There is a lot of chaos. I can tell you (it’s) a humanitarian crisis. It’s not exaggerated, it’s something real ... it’s a collective hysteria, a panic that people are developing even when there is not something concrete going on. The rumors scare the people, and the rumors make them leave.”

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An Uncertain Future