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A traffic violation could mean a call from ICE for some in Texas

"It’s about Governor Abbott wanting to be part of Trump’s deportation machine,” said civil rights advocate Mary Moreno.
Image: Drivers work their way out of Dallas during rush hour on July 1, 2016.
Drivers work their way out of Dallas during rush hour on July 1, 2016.LM Otero / AP file

AUSTIN, Texas — Highway patrol officers in Texas have been turning over to federal immigration authorities the names of hundreds of people stopped on certain traffic violations, a newspaper reported.

Details of the lists that Texas’ Department of Public Safety (DPS) has been sharing for two years were revealed during court proceedings on an immigration case of a San Antonio man, Gaspar Rodriguez Garcia. Garcia was pulled over by a DPS officer for failing to come to a complete stop at an intersection, The San Antonio Express-News reported Monday.

It was after his traffic stop that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) charged Garcia for entering the U.S. illegally again after he was previously deported.

In court, ICE officer Omar Esquivel explained Texas' collaboration with immigration authorities. “What they (DPS) do is they generate a list and they forward it to us to investigate all the names that are there,” Esquivel said in court, according to the Express-News. “What we do, we want records checks on every name that’s there.”

The news elicited swift criticism from immigrant advocates in the state.

Fernando Garcia, executive director and founder of the Border Network for Human Rights, said the information trading between ICE and Texas highway troopers is “causing a lot of fear and a lot of distrust between them and our community.”

“This is part of the immigration agenda that the governor and lieutenant governor in Texas are embracing. It is very unfortunate because Latinos represent a large segment of the population in Texas and this is for us a clear attack against Hispanics and Latinos in Texas," Garcia said.

The ticket-list sharing appears to have been in place even before Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law known as SB4 that gives law officers in the state greater leeway to demand information on a person’s citizenship and immigration status.

A spokesperson for DPS did not return a request from NBC News to discuss the name sharing. The agency sent a statement, saying, "There is a standing request from ICE to provide them a statewide listing of DPS enforcement of DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) and No Driver License offenses."

"These lists have been provided by Highway Patrol since August 2016 on a monthly basis. The information does not include, nor do we have, immigration status on the violators. The names of individuals involved in these enforcement actions are included in the list, regardless of race/ethnicity/sex etc."

ICE also declined a phone interview to discuss how many names have been turned over, how many people have been investigated, how many cases have led to deportations and whether state highway patrols do similar collaborations. The agency issued a statement saying it works in partnership with federal and state agencies to enforce immigration law and enhance public safety "by removing criminal aliens from the streets."

Mary Moreno, a spokeswoman for Texas Organizing Project, a civil rights and advocacy group, pushed back on the assertion that the people being ticketed are all criminals.

“This is not about finding criminals. How are you going to find criminals by looking for people who don’t have a license? If they are looking for criminals they should go to prisons; someone driving without a license is not a criminal," said Moreno. "It’s about Governor Abbott wanting to be part of Trump’s deportation machine."

The revelations show that DPS has been working to a greater extent than many knew to help federal agents deport immigrants.

The news of the lists follows reports that DPS has been contacting the Border Patrol when it pulls over drivers on traffic violations, including passengers. The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas has posted on its website video of DPS making stops and calling the Border Patrol from DPS dash cameras.

Revelations of the sharing of names of people issued citations shows that DPS has been working to a greater extent than many knew to help federal agents deport immigrants.

Tony Diaz, a writer, activist and expert on Mexican-American history, said the collaboration harkens "to the darkest era of the Texas Rangers who were sometimes used by ranchers to disenfranchise Mexicans and Mexican-Americans." The Texas Rangers are the elite police force of the DPS, which includes some Mexican-Americans today but in the past carried out violence and lynchings and slayings of Mexican-Americans.

"This is all being done under our noses," Diaz said of the ticket sharing and Texas SB4 law. "If people can see the problems with these policies, they better vote because right now these policies will not only become old hat but they will spread to other states."

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