Monday, July 21, 2008

Immigrant, Pregnant, Is Jailed Under Pact

Es horrible como el gobierno ha tratado a esta mujer indocumentada.


Immigrant, Pregnant, Is Jailed Under Pact
New York Times (July 20, 2008)

It started when Juana Villegas, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who
was nine months pregnant, was pulled over by a police officer in a
Nashville suburb for a routine traffic violation.

Juana Villegas and 2-week-old son in her lawyer's office Thursday in
Nashville. Mother and son had been separated for two days.

By the time Mrs. Villegas was released from the county jail six days
later, she had gone through labor with a sheriff's officer standing
guard in her hospital room, where one of her feet was cuffed to the
bed most of the time. County officers barred her from seeing or
speaking with her husband.

After she was discharged from the hospital, Mrs. Villegas was
separated from her nursing infant for two days and barred from taking
a breast pump into the jail, her lawyer and a doctor familiar with the
case said. Her breasts became infected, and the newborn boy developed
=0 Ajaundice, they said.

Mrs. Villegas's arrest has focused new attention on a cooperation
agreement signed in April 2007 between federal immigration authorities
and Davidson County, which shares a consolidated government with
Nashville, that gave immigration enforcement powers to county
officers. It is one of 57 agreements, known formally as 287G, that the
federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has signed in the
last two years with county and local police departments across the
country under a rapidly expanding program.

Nashville officials have praised the agreement as a successful
partnership between local and federal government.

"We are able to identify and report individuals who are here illegally
and have been charged with a criminal offense, while at the same time
remaining a friendly and open city to our new legal residents," Karl
Dean, the mayor of Nashville, said in a statement on Friday.

Lawyers and immigrant advocates say Mrs. Villegas's case shows how
local police can exceed their authority when they seek to act on
immigration laws they are not fully trained to enforce.

"Had it not been for the 287G program, she would not have been taken
down to jail," said A. Gregory Ramos, a lawyer who is a former
president of the Nashville Bar Association. "It was sold as something
to make the community safer by taking dangerous criminals off the
streets. But it has been ope rated so broadly that we are getting
pregnant women arrested for simple driving offenses, and we're not
getting rid of the robbers and gang members."

Mrs. Villegas, who is 33, has lived in the United States since 1996,
and has three other children besides the newborn who are American
citizens because they were born here.

She was stopped on July 3 in her husband's pickup truck by a police
officer from Berry Hill, a Nashville suburb, initially for "careless
driving." After Mrs. Villegas told the officer she did not have a
license, he did not issue a ticket but arrested her instead. Elliott
Ozment, Mrs. Villegas's lawyer, said driving without a license is a
misdemeanor in Tennessee that police officers generally handle with a
citation, not an arrest.

After Mrs. Villegas was taken to the Davidson County jail, a federal
immigration agent working there as part of the cooperation agreement
conducted a background check. It showed that Mrs. Villegas was an
illegal immigrant who had been deported once from the United States in
March 1996, Karla Weikal, a spokeswoman for the county sheriff, said.
She had no other criminal record.

As a result, immigration agents issued an order to take charge of Mrs.
Villegas once she was released by the local authorities. Based on that
order, county officers designated her a medium-security inmate in the
jail, Ms. Weikal said.

So when Mrs. Vi llegas went into labor on the night of July 5, she was
handcuffed and accompanied by a deputy as she was taken by ambulance
to Nashville General Hospital at Meharry. Cuffs chaining her foot to
the hospital bed were opened when she reached the final stages of
labor, Mrs. Villegas said.

"I felt like they were treating me like a criminal person," Mrs.
Villegas said, speaking in Spanish in a telephone interview. The phone
in her room was turned off, and she was not permitted to speak with
her husband when he came to retrieve their newborn son from the
hospital on July 7 as she returned to jail, she said.

As Mrs. Villegas left the hospital, a nurse offered her a breast pump
but a sheriff's deputy said she could not take it into the jail, Mrs.
Villegas said.

Mr. Ozment, the lawyer, said Mrs. Villegas would never have been
detained without the 287G cooperation agreement.

"Whether this lady was documented or undocumented should not affect
how she was treated in her late pregnant condition and as she was
going through labor and bonding with her new baby," Mr. Ozment said.

On July 8, Mrs. Villegas was taken to court, where she pleaded guilty
to driving without a license and was sentenced to time served.
Immigration agents immediately released her while a deportation case
proceeds, following a policy adopted last year by the Immigration and
Customs Enforcement to avoid separating babies from nursing mothers.

Ms. Weikal said Mrs. Villegas's jail stay was prolonged by the
Independence Day holiday weekend, when the courts were closed.

"There is a perception that she was treated different from other
inmates, and it just is not true," Ms. Weikal said. "Unfortunately the
business of corrections is that families are separated. It's not
pretty, it's not understandable to a lot of people."

She said that it was standard procedure to bar medical equipment like
a breast pump from the jail.

More than 60,000 illegal immigrants have been identified for
deportation since 2006 through 287G cooperation programs, said Richard
Rocha, a spokesman for the federal immigration agency. Most of the
agreements are aimed at increasing the screening of immigrant convicts
serving sentences in local jails, in order to speed their deportation.
Some, like Nashville's, provide for immigration screening right after
any foreign-born person is arrested.

Arrests of immigrants have increased rapidly in Tennessee since early
2006, when the state stopped allowing illegal immigrants to obtain
driver's licenses, after five years when they had been able to drive

National Institute for Latino Policy
101 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 313
New York, NY 10013

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