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Dallas Police Driving Me Loco

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I realize Dallas is a ways from the border. This was one of those stories, however, that just seems too outrageous to believe so I had to jump the borderline.Richard Abshire and Scott Goldstein at the Dallas Morning News have a series of stories about police officers ticketing people for not speaking English. Ernestina Mondragon, 48, was ticketed on October 2 while taking her 11-year old daughter to school.  Mondragon made an illegal U-turn and was pulled over. The Dallas police officer cited her for the illegal U-turn and not having her license with her, but then he also ticketed her for not speaking English.Mondragon, a legal U.S. resident, said she felt humiliated. You can take a look at her traffic citation online. What troubles me even more is that according to the citation the police officer searched her car without her consent. An officer can’t search your car without probable cause. Not only was Mondragon subjected to the nutso citation for not speaking English but she also had her car searched in front of her 11-year old daughter as if she were suspected of a crime. At least 38 people have been cited for not speaking English since 2007. Almost all of them were Hispanic and none of the officers who issued the citations were Hispanic. The officers ranged from a rookie to a 13-year veteran, according to the Dallas Morning News.While I’ve never heard of anyone being ticketed for not speaking English along the border, residents, who are mostly Hispanic,  get the Dallas treatment all the time. They get pulled over and their cars are searched by the police. Last March, the ACLU released a report on the State-Federal funded Operation Border Star, which has been in operation along the border since 2007. The Texas Legislature poured $110 million into the program to fight violent crime and drug smuggling. The ACLU found that an enormous number of border residents are pulled over for no reason. They cited the Hidalgo County cities of La Joya and Sullivan City as examples of the excessive number of traffic stops:”The Cities of La Joya and Sullivan City, which have between 4,300 and 4,700 residents, and their police departments combined to make 9,576 traffic stops as part of Operation Border Star. The result? 3,314 citations and 5,387 warnings issued. That’s roughly one traffic stop per resident.”I got an idea of what the ACLU was talking about in May, when I was pulled over on Interstate 10  outside of El Paso by two officers participating in Operation Border Star. They separated my husband and I and asked us a number of questions about where we were headed and where we were staying. It was 6:30 a.m. in the morning and I was tempted to say something snarky because I hadn’t had my quota of caffeine yet. Having just seen that video of the Texas grandmother getting tasered, I decided to be as charming as one can possibly be on the side of Interstate 10 at 6:30 in the morning. Finally, they let us go. I received a  piece of paper that looked like a citation but had no fine attached (thankfully), it said that I’d received a “warning” for following too close to a truck.Being pulled over by the cops, especially when you are innocent, is a jarring experience. It’s also not something you want to happen in front of your kids, as in the case of Mondragon. Every bogus traffic stop is just one more brick in the wall between the Latino community and law enforcement.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. Melissa is a 2014-15 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.