October 27, 2009 in Nation/World

‘Driving while Hispanic’ leads to tickets

Police chief says citations will be tossed
Kate Linthicum Los Angeles Times
 

Over the past three years, police in Dallas have ticketed 39 drivers for not speaking English even though there is no law requiring drivers be able to do so.

Amid growing public anger, police Chief David Kunkle said last week that the citations would be thrown out and the issuing officers would be investigated.

The practice came to light when a Mexican immigrant, Ernestina Mondragon, went to the media with claims that she had been cited for being a “non-English speaking driver” during a routine traffic stop. There is no such law in Dallas, although there is a federal statute that says commercial drivers must be able to speak English.

Mondragon told reporters that she had been driving her daughter to school Oct. 2 when she was pulled over for making an illegal U-turn. Mondragon, who has been in the country legally since 1980, speaks mostly Spanish. She was cited for disregarding a traffic control device and failure to present a driver’s license, as well as for her inability to speak English.

Mondragon said she was embarrassed by the incident and that her 11-year-old daughter was traumatized.

The charge was dropped when she challenged it in court. But the case generated an outcry in Dallas, where Latinos make up roughly 40 percent of the population and represent the city’s largest racial or ethnic group.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Hector Flores, former president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a nationwide civil rights group. “It’s racial profiling. She was cited for driving while Hispanic. For driving while immigrant.”

The attention surrounding Mondragon’s case led police to investigate whether similar charges had been filed in the past. At a news conference Friday, Kunkle said at least six officers had charged 38 other drivers with not speaking English. Kunkle said all the charges would be dropped and people who had paid a $204 fine would be reimbursed.


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