Traffic Codes = a Major Tool of White Supremacy: Videos Show TX Cops Hunting for Non-White Immigrants During Traffic Stops

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Too Much "Routine," not Enough 4th Amendment. As pointed out by the Supreme Court, "total compliance with traffic and safety rules is nearly impossible, a police officer will almost invariably be able to catch any given motorist in a technical violation. This creates the temptation to use traffic stops as a means of investigating other law violations, as to which no probable cause or even articulable suspicion exists." [MORE] Since the 1980's police departments have co-opted local traffic codes as a major weapon of racism/white supremacy to be used against Black & Brown travellers. 

 For white folks, the bare essentials of a "routine traffic stop" consist of causing the vehicle to stop, explaining to the driver the reason for the stop, questioning solely based on the stop, verifying the credentials of the driver and the vehicle, and then issuing a citation or a warning. 10 minutes later, have a nice day buddy. 

For many Non-whites, particularly Latinos and Blacks, the bare essentials of a traffic stop consist of a records check via radio or computer regarding the criminal & traffic history of those stopped and any outstanding arrest warrants for those individuals; papers check for citizenship status of driver and passengers, records check of the vehicle registration, [questioning unrelated to the stop such as] interrogation of those stopped directly on the subject of immigration status, drugs or weapons, interrogation about the nature and purpose of their travels; seeking (and often obtaining) consent to conduct a full search of the stopped vehicle and the driver/passengers; using a drug-sniffing dog to detect the presence of any drugs in the stopped vehicle and/or verbal abuse, provocation, physical beat down, prolonged detention and/or deportation. Contemptuous, shitty government service from public rulers. [MORE]

"They're Taking Everybody." From [HERE] IN TEXAS, STATE troopers have become frontline enforcers of federal immigration laws. In recent years, and especially since Donald Trump was elected president, the Texas Highway Patrol, part of the state’s Department of Public Safety, or DPS, has developed a well-oiled deportation machine that scoops up drivers who’ve committed minor traffic infractions, then funnels them to the Border Patrol and sometimes Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Passengers and pedestrians who weren’t even driving are also taken into custody. Caught in the Texas deportation pipeline, immigrants’ lives are damaged or ruined, along with those of their children, many of whom were born and raised in the U.S.

It’s difficult to know exactly how often this is happening. DPS records are costly, hard to obtain, and difficult to interpret. Data on handovers was not collected until December 2015, and since then the reporting of these incidents has been haphazard. In 2017, troopers still were not consistently reporting all stops that resulted in handovers to the Border Patrol. Through public records requests, the ACLU of Texas determined that the agency’s internal documentation did not record the handovers of several individuals who the organization’s field organizers knew had been detained by the highway patrol, imprisoned, and, in some cases, removed from the country.

Subsequently, The Intercept, working with the ACLU of Texas, obtained several DPS dashcam videos that show immigrants being detained on the road for trivial violations and then carted away by the Border Patrol.

The details of these deportations were gathered initially from DPS paperwork and dashcam videos, obtained through open records requests. We then located the detainees and their families, including in Mexico. We made house visits and played the videotapes. As they watched, parents and children talked about how their lives were upended by Texas state troopers and current state and national immigration policy.

One such arrest was Ruth Mariel Ramirez, 30, who has four children, three of whom were born in the U.S. Before Ruth’s encounter with DPS a few months ago, she and her family were living comfortably in the El Paso area. Now they’re struggling in poverty-stricken, cartel violence-wracked Juárez, Mexico.

Ruth was raised just across the border in Juárez, in a violent, drug-ridden neighborhood, with a drug-abusing father who eventually died of AIDS. She says that today most of her surviving childhood friends are drug traffickers, contract murderers for the cartels, or addicts. At age 13 Ruth gave birth to a son, Brayan, and at age 15 she crossed into El Paso with Brayan to live a safer life with an aunt and uncle. She became involved with a man with whom she had three more children, but the relationship soured and the couple split up. Ruth met Jaime Ortiz, a legal immigrant who has spent many years in the U.S. and has a well-paying job that requires he travel on weekdays. Jaime became a loving father figure to Ruth’s kids, while she became active in her church, studied to finish high school, and received her GED.

The children led typical Texas lives. Thirteen-year-old Mariel Carolina, a middle-school honor student, was already planning to attend an early-college high school in El Paso to get a head start on her dream of becoming a pediatrician. Brayan, 15, played football and lifted weights. From the time he was 12, he has been an avid composer and rapper.

On a Sunday morning early last March, Ruth went shopping and then bustled to prepare for an 11 a.m. Bible class. She intended to go home, wash and iron Jaime’s clothes, and prepare food for his coming week’s travel. She had an appointment the next day with a lawyer who was processing Brayan’s DACA application — she’d already paid hundreds of dollars in legal fees and had Brayan’s fingerprints taken. She’d also scheduled a visit to the high school to begin the registration process for Mariel Carolina.

Church ended early Sunday afternoon, and Ruth and her daughter were driving home in the truck when they were pulled over by a pair of state troopers, riding together in one vehicle. Hearing their siren, Ruth couldn’t imagine what she’d done wrong. A couple of times in past years, she says, she’d been stopped by troopers for traffic infractions and was simply ticketed, and she’d promptly paid her fines. She was not perturbed when the troopers now told her she’d been stopped because her windows were tinted too dark. But she eventually realized that this stop wasn’t really about windows. It was about her immigration status. By evening, she’d been sucked into the DPS-Border Patrol deportation pipeline.

That pipeline begins with a Texas Motor Vehicles department regulation mandating that no one can get a driver’s license without showing proof they are in the U.S. legally. The rule went into effect in 2008 and the results were drastic. Many undocumented Texans are now forced to drive withkout a license, especially in areas with patchy to nonexistent public transportation.

In Texas, according to a Pew Research Center study, about 6 percent of the state’s population is undocumented — 1 in every 18 people. But in border counties, where for generations people have moved back and forth between the two countries to be with family members, traditionally no one has paid much attention to immigration status. In these communities, the number of undocumented people is substantially higher. In El Paso County, where Ruth and her family lived, about 8 percent of the population lack papers.

Ruth’s home was in San Elizario, a centuries-old former farming village about 20 miles downriver from El Paso. Sheriff’s deputies in the area have for years been forbidden from asking people about their immigration status during traffic stops.

In the past, state troopers have been a common sight in the densely populated eastern and central parts of Texas, but they’ve been seen less frequently on the more sparsely settled border with Mexico. Then the troopers came south and west, to communities where 75 to 98 percent of the population is Latino, mainly of Mexican descent.

The troopers’ “surge” into the border has its roots in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The federal Department of Homeland Security was formed in 2003, and in Texas, conservative politicians began spouting rhetoric about the dangers of narco-trafficking, human trafficking, and terrorism spilling across the U.S.-Mexico border. By 2006, Texas Gov. Rick Perry was funneling federal money to sheriff’s departments on the border and to the Department of Public Safety, the state agency that includes highway troopers and Texas Rangers. In 2008, the Texas legislature began allocating state money for “border security.” The budget for that item then skyrocketed, from $110 million for the biennium 2008 to 2009, to $800 million for 2008 and 2009. DPS gets the bulk of the funding.

Those funds have been spent on activities christened with militaristic names such as “Ranger Recon missions” and “Operation Strong Safety.” The ops and missions come with gunboats, helicopters, and drones. For several months in 2008, there was even a website run by the Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition on which civilian “volunteers” could view the output of cameras hidden on the Texas border, then phone-in “sightings” of suspected undocumented crossers and criminals. Almost 25,000 people signed up to be “virtual deputies.” But by the time the program was quietly scrapped about a year later, the so-called deputies’ work had led to only 11 arrests, at a cost of $2 million.

In reality rather than political hyperbole, the border has a low crime rate compared to the rest of the state. No terrorist has ever been known to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. And according to the nonpartisan Legislative Budget Board, which advises the Texas Legislature on the efficiency and effectiveness of state agencies, DPS’s claims of crime-fighting effectiveness are not reliable because the agency does not provide quantitative measures of border security.

Traffic citations and warnings in several border counties skyrocketed after the “border security” troopers arrived, and local political leaders complained that their constituents felt under siege. One DPS official explained in an interview that troopers were making stops for petty infractions, such as improperly placed license plates, in order to check drivers and their passengers for serious crimes. These pre-textual stops became a potent way of netting undocumented immigrants.

During that period, stops for petty traffic infractions sometimes led to the trooper calling the Border Patrol. But for the most part, Border Patrol agents weren’t interested in deporting harmless DPS road product. People who had been living in the U.S. for years, with no criminal priors and U.S.-born kids, were usually held for a few hours at a Border Patrol station, fingerprinted, and sent home. “Catch and release,” the policy was popularly called under the Obama administration — immigrants as undersized fish. DPS troopers exercised discretion and often adopted the same laissez-faire practice, which is why Ruth used to only get tickets.

In November 2016, just before the election, DPS Director Steve McCraw sent an email to troopers ending the de facto “catch and release” policy. “When probable cause exists that someone illegally crossed the border,” he wrote, “we have an obligation to refer those incidents to the U.S. Border Patrol, or … Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

According to data DPS provided to Democratic state Sen. José Rodríguez in April, reported Border Patrol referrals averaged about 13 per month from December 2015 to October 2016.

Soon after McCraw’s email went out, reported handover incidents spiked. According to the statistics provided to Rodríguez, there were 40 such incidents in December 2016, compared with 24 in December 2015.


On the dashcam video memorializing Ruth Mariel Ramirez’s stop for tinted windows, Trooper Korin Hutchisson orders Ruth and Mariel Carolina to stand on the side of a dusty road near her church. He determines that Ruth has no Texas driver’s license. She shows him one from Mexico, and Hutchisson’s partner, Patrick Brookshier, holds the paper to the sky. “It’s a fake,” he says. Ruth had other forms of ID, including a Mexican voter card with her Texas address, but the troopers appear certain she is masquerading under a false name.

After her daughter is sent home, Ruth sweats silently under the desert sun for almost an hour until a Border Patrol agent arrives, peers at the Mexican license, and shrugs. “It’s kind of wishy-washy,” he says of the document and the troopers’ insistence that Ruth’s identity is fake. But he packs her into a Border Patrol vehicle anyway. The troopers speculate that Ruth is a major narco-trafficker – a “high roller,” they snicker – attempting to pass for someone else, “trying not to look too important” by driving a “beat-up” truck.

At the Border Patrol office, according to Ruth, the troopers sipped convenience-store cappuccinos as she was identified, immigration court records confirm, as being exactly who she said she was, with no criminal record. She was deemed removable and sent to an immigrant detention facility. [MORE]