Published November 21, 2011
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) urged the Hispanic community in South Carolina to join forces to fight law SB 20, which allows authorities to question the immigration status of people detained in routine traffic stops if there is a "reasonable suspicion" that they might be undocumented.
During a brief visit to the Palmetto State, Gutierrez also urged South Carolina Hispanics to learn to use a new federal policy to avoid more deportations.
The lawmaker's visit to South Carolina is part of a tour he is making along with 10 other Democratic congressmen around the South to ask for the overturning of anti-immigrant laws like SB 20.
After his stay in South Carolina, Gutierrez will travel on Monday to Birmingham, where he will denounce the impact of Alabama's harsh immigration measure, HB 56.
"This legislation spurs racial profiling and is un-American. We have to fight together and do everything possible because the government cannot continue separating families," Gutierrez said on Sunday at a meeting with Hispanic leaders in Charleston.
He also participated in a community forum attended by 500 people and heard examples of how Hispanics are being indiscriminately detained.
SB 20 permits law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of a person during routine traffic stops if a "reasonable suspicion" exists that the person is in the country illegally.
Gutierrez also urged local leaders to use the memorandum of discretion approved Aug. 18 by the administration of President Barack Obama that seeks to reduce the deportations of immigrants without criminal records.
"That memorandum should be used (with) discretion immediately. The No. 1 reason you're detained and taken to an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) facility is a moving traffic violation," Gutierrez said.
"That initiates the process of your deportation, and if that's all there is, they should simply use their discretion and release you. So people have to learn to use it (the memorandum) and demand that it be used," the Chicago-area congressman said.
The Department of Homeland Security has begun to review on a case by case basis the deportation proceedings of 300,000 undocumented immigrants to focus on those that pose a danger to the country.
On Dec. 19, a federal district court in Charleston will hear the state's arguments in favor of SB 20, as well as the opinions of attorneys for the federal government and organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed lawsuits to halt its entry into force on Jan. 1.