Emelina Ramirez of rural Georgia called police to tell them her roommates were attacking her, punching, and kicking her in the stomach. Police handcuffed her, took her to jail, and ran her fingerprints through a federal database. She is now in an Alabama cell awaiting deportation, says the Los Angeles Times. In Georgia, which has just enacted one of the nation’s toughest laws against illegal immigration, the story seems to have this moral for many undocumented immigrants: Do not trust the police. “People are living in fear,” said Jerry Gonzalez of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, which is providing Latino residents information on the law. That is difficult because of the vast differences in how local enforcement officials are interpreting the law.
The Georgia Security and Immigration Compliance Act, which took effect July 1, requires law enforcement officers to investigate the citizenship status of anyone charged with a felony or driving under the influence. Latino activists say local officials are increasingly running background checks on Latinos who commit misdemeanors, such as minor traffic violations, or even those who go to the police to report thefts or fraud. Some legal experts question whether local police officers and sheriffs’ deputies can enforce immigration laws without racial profiling and discrimination. “The fear is that if you put it in the discretion of local law enforcement, you will have situations where they go outside of the law,” said New York University law Prof. Cristina Rodriguez.