Criminalize, then Deport: Are Chicago Police Abetting Deportations?

In May, the Chicago Tribune released a report claiming DUI checkpoints target Black and Latino neighborhoods. The report found that between 2010 and June of last year 84% of DUI checkpoints were placed in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods, while only 4% were found in predominantly white neighborhoods – despite the fact that these made up 25% of the city’s alcohol-related accidents.

duicheckpointdemo1Concerned that Chicago Police was aiding and abetting deportations through the racialized placement of DUI checkpoints, as residents and local members of the undocumented community, we responded by mobilizing outside of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s offices and demanding accountability on the city’s policing tactics. Via e-mail, the city dismissed the Tribune’s findings as “not accurate” and reassured us that the Mayor has taken action “to welcome and protect Chicago’s diverse immigrant communities.”

Yet, this Thursday a new report was published indicating that not only are the original findings true, but also that little has changed in the police’s racialized use of DUI checkpoints. Of the 14 checkpoints scheduled between March and August alone, no less than 13 of them were in Black and Latino neighborhoods. Roving DUI patrols were used in some districts with majority white residents in recent months, but these “require probable cause before pulling over a vehicle, whereas checkpoints enable police to make contact with drivers who ordinarily would not have been stopped.”

These findings send a very clear message. In the city of Chicago the placement of DUI checkpoints has little to do with public safety concerns and everything to do with the color of the skin of the neighborhood residents. What is more, the data repudiates the claim that some communities engage in more criminal activity, and exposes the particular tactics through which some neighborhoods are more heavily policed and punished than others.

For Immigrants DUIs Can Lead to Deportation

For immigrant communities, the targeted use of DUI checkpoints and racialized policing tactics can have devastating effects. Especially after President Obama’s announcements in November, immigrants have experienced an alarming increase in the detention and deportation of individuals charged with minor offense such as driving under the influence. As research shows, almost two-thirds of requests from immigration agents to detain immigrants arrested by local police are against individuals who have no criminal record or who have only committed minor offenses such as driving under the influence.

While Illinois classifies DUIs as misdemeanors, ICE places them in the category of “significant misdemeanors.” This means that whenever an undocumented person is charged with a DUI, they automatically become a “priority for deportation;” ICE can use this recently fabricated category as license to show up at a person’s home, apprehend them without warning, hold them in a detention facility for months or even years, and, finally, deport them—without any regard for the person’s familial or community ties, fulfillment of legal obligations, efforts taken to remedy past mistakes, or even if the offense happened decades ago. If immigrant communities are being over-policed and DUI arrests are being carried out in a targeted manner, CPD and the city of Chicago need to be held accountable for its complicity in this deportation dragnet.

Back in May CPD spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi, who described the checkpoints as a “success,”stated that the “core focus of the CPD is to safeguard the people of Chicago.”

Driving under the influence is a serious public health issue, and it needs to be treated as such. When DUI arrests are carried out in a racialized manner, further entrenching distrust between communities of color and the police, abetting deportations and separating families—while doing nothing to address the root causes of drunk driving or ensuring that individuals who are stopped for DUIs receive the support they need to recover—what kind of success is the city achieving, and whose safety and well-being is being preculded?

Racialized policing and biased DUI charges that lead to deportation do not contribute to public safety. These tactics turn the genuine issue of alcoholism and drunk driving into a flimsy justification for forcing families apart and feeds a profitable system of immigrant detention. This parallels the way that low-level crimes, particularly drug crimes, have been mobilized to criminalize and justify the incarceration of Black and Latino youth and communities.  

If Chicago wants to be true to its title as a “Welcoming” city, it needs to be transparent in its policing tactics and held accountable for targeting black and brown communities; and in the process abetting deportations.  

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