July 5, 2012

Illegal Immigrants Released Following Traffic Stop

Located more than 1,000 miles from the embattled border between the United States and Mexico, Scotland County definitely is not on the forefront of the immigration debate.

That didn't prevent local law enforcement officials from getting a first-hand glimpse of federal policy recently.

On Monday, June 4th, Scotland County Sheriff's Deputy Bryan Whitney initiated a traffic stop on Highway 136 east of Downing. The deputy pulled over a white Ford truck for a lane violation on suspicion of careless driving.

Whitney found the vehicle to be occupied by five males without any identification. None of the subjects spoke English.

"We have a few books to point at English to Spanish translations, but it is very difficult to communicate when neither party speaks the other's language," said Whitney.

Ultimately the individuals all surrendered photo IDs issued by the Mexican government.

The standard check through the Missouri MULES system identified a misdemeanor warrant for one of the five men from Springfield, but it was a non-extradition warrant.

Officers from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Schuyler County Sheriff's Office and the Memphis Police Department assisted at the scene following the traffic stop.

The investigators contacted the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to determine action versus the individuals who were believed to illegally be in the country.

"After their Mexican IDs were run through the system and they decided that none of them were wanted on any felony warrants, they instructed us to let them go," Whitney said. "They pretty much indicated that unless they've committed a heinous felony they won't come to pick them up if you detain them."

The five individuals, who claimed to be from the Kansas City, KS area, were allegedly traveling in this region doing roof repairs and shingling.

Despite having no valid driver's license or insurance coverage, not to mention no passports or other legal documentation to allow them to be in the United States, the individuals were released.

They did consent to a vehicle search, and no weapons or drugs or any other illegal contraband were identified.

"After a little more than three hours, we were instructed to send them on their way because the federal government was not going to send anyone to Memphis to handle the immigration infraction," Whitney said.

The deputy indicated he could have written the driver a series of traffic tickets, but questioned the likelihood of any return for court by the suspect, adding that the officers weren't even 100% sure who the suspects were considering the foreign nature of their identification papers.

"In all likelihood, that would have just added more cost and wasted time for the court systems," he said.

A similar stop of a United States resident would have likely resulted in tickets being issued for no valid driver's license, and failure to maintain financial responsibility. If the motorist had been from outside the jurisdiction, a $250 cash bond likely would have been required to insure a court appearance.

The Missouri Legislature currently is considering Senate Bill 590, proposed by Senator Will Kraus of Kansas City, which would require, upon any lawful stop, detention, or arrest, law enforcement shall determine the citizenship and immigration status of the person if there is reasonable suspicion that the person is an unlawfully present alien. If an alien is determined by the federal government to be unlawfully present, the law enforcement agency shall cooperate in the transfer of the alien into federal custody.

Senator Kraus has also authored proposed legislation that would require the Missouri Attorney General to seek reimbursement from the federal government for all state costs of enforcing federal immigration law enforcement not currently being provided.

The Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington, D.C. estimates that approximately 11.2 million illegal immigrants live in the United States.

In 2011, according to ICE statistics, just shy of 400,000 illegal immigrants were deported. Of that number, nearly half were convicted felons with another 25% listed as repeat offenders or immigration fugitives.

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