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Q & A with Mauricio Calvo

Director of Latino Memphis


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Supporters of immigrant rights could say that Shelby County took one step forward last week while the state took one step back.

At a Latino Memphis political forum last Monday, county mayoral candidates Joe Ford and Mark Luttrell initially supported a county-issued ID card for undocumented immigrants. (Luttrell later withdrew his support, claiming he didn't understand the ID would be given to people in the country illegally.)

On the same day, Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen signed legislation requiring jailers to inquire into the residency status of prisoners and forward that information to federal immigration officials.

In the wake of the changes, Latino Memphis director Mauricio Calvo took a few moments to talk to the Flyer about immigrant rights. — Bianca Phillips

Flyer: What would a county ID card be used for?

Mauricio Calvo: It would only be used for identification. It would not give anyone citizenship or driving privileges. It's not meant to compete with a driver's license or a visa.

You would be amazed at how much you use your ID. You need an ID to pick your kids up from day care or to buy beer. It's also important for victims. Typically, when you file a police report, police would like to see an ID.

What would be required to get an ID?

The county would probably ask for proof of residency, like a lease, and proof of who you are, like a birth certificate or a passport. The county could charge a fee and make some money.

How do you feel about the new state law that requires jailers to determine citizenship of the people they arrest?

If people are raping someone, they need to be removed from society and this country. I'm okay with that. The problem that we have is when somebody is racially profiled or someone has a minor traffic violation. They get pulled over. They don't have a license or an ID and they go to jail. Then they end up in immigration. It's just blown out of proportion.

The climate has become almost like being a Muslim after September 11th. You start looking at everybody suspiciously. That's very un-American. I think it's a step backward.

Would the proposed county ID prevent people from going to jail in minor traffic stops?

If you don't have an ID and you get pulled over, you go to jail because they don't know who you are. That delays the officer from patrolling his area. It costs the jail money for someone who probably just made a wrong turn.

With the county ID, you would still get a ticket for not having a license. But at least, for the safety of officers, they would know who you are. They would be able to tell if you had a warrant or if you're just a mom driving home.

In May, Tennessee passed a resolution supporting Arizona's controversial law that allows police to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. Were you surprised by that?

I was shocked and disappointed. Why in the world would we want to be identified with Arizona? They had a tremendous backlash as far as image and economics. People started canceling trips and boycotting. Why would we want to support something that fosters racial profiling? I don't think it made us any better. We didn't gain anything by doing that.

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