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Dallas Police Ticket Drivers for Not Speaking English

Dallas police wrongly ticketed at least 39 drivers for not speaking English over the last three years, reports the Dallas Morning News.

It seems Dallas police were confused when, after pulling drivers over for other suspected violations, the police checked their in-car computers and a pull-down menu listed the “non-English speaking driver” charge as an option. The violation actually referred to a federal law governing commercial drivers that the Dallas police now say they don’t even enforce. However, at least 39 non-commercial drivers were fined $204 for their limited language skills.

Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle said on Friday that they would be reimbursed.

Although Dallas police don’t seem to have been attempting to enforce any immigration laws in these incidents, there’s a parallel to the ongoing controversy over a federal program that allows local police around the country who stop Latinos for minor traffic violations to check their legal status, then turn them over to federal immigration authorities for deportation if they can’t prove they’re in the United States legally.

The federal program, known as 287(g), deputizes some local police to enforce federal immigration law. But abuse of that power, often due to similar misunderstandings by local police officers, has at times led to the deportation of legal U.S. residents and even citizens, and prompted angry complaints from immigrants’ advocates.

Ultimately, much of the problem — in Dallas and beyond — seems to come from a lack of training of local police. The revelation that non-English speakers were getting fined in Dallas therefore could end up casting more attention on the 287(g) program, to the extent that local officials are wrongly arresting immigrants due to a lack of training on immigrants’ rights, local law enforcement authority, and what actually constitutes a crime.

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