A local Latino resident said he was racially profiled by a Memphis Police Department (MPD) officer last week while on a routine walk through his neighborhood.
On Rondell Treviño's Tuesday-evening walk in the Berclair area, he said he was accosted by a police officer who asked for his documentation. Treviño, who is the founder of the Immigration Project (a faith-based organization aimed to improve immigrant relations with the church), told the officer he is a U.S. citizen and works at a local church.
After the officer insisted that he still needed to show documentation, Treviño gave the officer his Social Security card.
"Wow, I thought you'd be an illegal alien because you're Latino," the officer responded, according to Treviño.
When asked to comment on this incident, MPD Lt. Karen Rudolph said there is no record of it occurring, however it is "absolutely not" standard procedure for the department.
- Rondell Treviño
"Memphis police officers are not instructed to inquire on any person's citizenship," Rudolph said. "The Memphis Police Department does not enforce immigration laws."
Treviño said he decided not to file an official complaint against the officer, whose name or appearance he couldn't recall "because of shock."
Though no report transpired from the encounter, which lasted a little less than 10 minutes, Treviño said it was "terrifying" and left him feeling "less-than."
"You know you have a broken system when a legal immigrant is afraid to go on walks in his own neighborhood," Treviño said. "It makes me afraid for the undocumented immigrant whose fear is probably 100 times worse."
This type of racial profiling is especially scary, Treviño said, after a new "mass-deportation" bill passed the Tennessee General Assembly and advanced to the governor's desk last week.
The bill (HB 2315/SB 2332), in sum, prohibits state and local governments from adopting sanctuary policies for undocumented immigrants, while requiring local law enforcement agencies to enforce federal immigration laws. This means all law enforcement officers, including campus police, are required to inquire about immigration and citizenship status during routine stops.
The bill is a "sweeping and extreme measure," according to Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.
Urging the governor to veto the bill, Teatro calls it "one of the country's extreme, anti-immigration bills," and said it would make Tennessee a "dangerous place for immigrant families and cement our state's reputation as hostile and unwelcoming."
"HB2315 sets a dangerous precedent by severely restricting the ability of local police to make common-sense, public-safety decisions, and forcing local governments to bear the risk and expense of federal immigration enforcement," Teatro said.
Governor Bill Haslam has until the end of this week to decide to either sign or veto the bill.
Treviño said if the bill passes, fear in Memphis' undocumented community will be heightened more so than it already is.
"Husbands might go to work, kiss their wives and kids, and wonder if it's the last time he'll see his family," Treviño said. "People shouldn't have to live like that. It's an injustice."