Fernando Castillo-Solis also argues that the 287(g) program, which is used in Gwinnett’s jail as well as others, including Cobb’s, allows law-enforcement officers to racially profile.
The state statute at issue regarding driver’s licenses, section 40-5-20, indicates that those charged with driving without a license may not be prosecuted if they get a valid license before their court date.
The Cobb Sheriff’s Office has been trying to get the General Assembly to clarify that statute in recent years. Not surprisingly, the case has drawn ire and praise from Cobb citizens on opposing sides of the illegal-immigration debate.
Castillo-Solis was stopped in Gwinnett County in January 2010 after a police officer determined the registration on the van he was driving was suspended. Prosecutors then charged him with No Valid Driver’s License and Failure to Register Vehicle.
Castillo-Solis filed motions to suppress the evidence and void, or quash, the No License statute as unconstitutional. At a hearing on the motion, the parties agreed that Castillo-Solis is a citizen of Mexico who had been living in Georgia for 10 years.
The state called as a witness an attorney who testified that undocumented immigrants who encounter U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement through the 287(g) program are subject to deportation. She also testified that an undocumented immigrant can be deported for driving without a driver’s license.
The 287(g) program is a joint federal and state program that allows local law enforcement agencies to partner with ICE to receive delegated authority for immigration enforcement within their jurisdictions.
The Gwinnett court denied Castillo-Solis’s motion, and his appeal is now what the Georgia Supreme Court is considering. The high court has until the end of March to issue its decision in the case.
His lawyer, Arturo Corso, has argued in court documents that as the no-license statute is written, if a license is obtained before a driver charged with that offense goes to trial, “he or she shall not be guilty.”
But as an illegal immigrant, Castillo-Solis is ineligible to get such a license and is thus denied the right to defend his case, Corso argues.
“While there may be legitimate reasons for government to treat undocumented aliens differently than other persons in particular processes such as the voting booth, there is no reason to uniquely deprive them of a fair trial and an absolute defense when they would otherwise be capable of safe driving practices,” he wrote in court documents.
Corso also wrote that if an unscrupulous officer conducts an illegal stop as a pretext to inquire into the motorist’s license status and thus his immigration status, “what judge will ever hear the suppression motion if the motorist is deported by the expedited process known as 287(g)? … It creates an incentive for officers to racially profile and unreasonably stop motorists.”
Gwinnett county’s solicitor-general, Rosanna Szabo, meanwhile, insists in briefs filed with the court that under previous court decisions, “the (no-license) charge can only be dismissed if the person, whatever their legal status, presents proof at trial that he or she actually was validly licensed to drive at the time of the traffic stop.”
Castillo-Solis has no right or standing to challenge the Georgia statute as unconstitutional because he never had a driver’s license, nor did he have a right to a license, prosecutors argue.
Prosecutors also argue that Castillo-Solis has presented no evidence that the goal of section 40-5-20 is the deportation of undocumented immigrants.
In the 2013 session of the General Assembly, Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren intends to again attempt to get Cobb’s members of the General Assembly to revise O.C.G.A. section 40-5-20(a), which as written precludes a finding of guilt if the offender produces a license in court, Cobb Sheriff’s Col. Don Bartlett said.
In legislative fact sheet, Warren notes “it is unlikely that the General Assembly intended this exemption to apply to an offender who failed to obtain a license in the first place” and urged lawmakers to clarify the law.
Rich Pellegrino, a director of Cobb Immigrant Alliance, believes the state is wrong in this case.
“The state has caused any and all safety problems by not allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, as some other states do and which Georgia used to allow before the State decided to target and harass undocumented immigrants. … The State could grant that privilege again if it was really concerned about safety and wanted to stop its discriminatory targeting of this group of good, hardworking, family people.
“Everyone knows that these state laws, and 287G, opens up the door for police officers and Sheriff’s deputies, who are only human and have their own biases, to racially profile. It is difficult to get plaintiffs to complain against both the state and the police about these issues, including racial profiling, especially undocumented immigrants, for fear of retaliation,” Pellegrino told the Journal via email.
D.A. King, of Marietta, president of the Dustin Inman Society, which is named for a Cherokee teen killed in a car accident caused by an illegal immigrant, called the case “a great example of the fact that enforcement works and how a usual suspect, anti-enforcement, tribalist lawyer attempts to subvert laws put in place to protect Georgians from the crime of illegal immigration.”
“Everyone should stand by for the sure-to-come howls that denying illegal aliens a driver’s license is ‘racist’ and enforcing the law even more so. I am guessing that lawyer Corso will not mention that an illegal alien in Mexico has a snowball’s chance of obtaining a Mexican driver’s license or suing against prosecution for driving without one there. … I am proud to have helped former state Senator John Wiles with this law (SB 350) in 2008 and I look forward to watching this particular illegal alien become a focal point for the illegal alien lobby’s endless race-baiting. Who will tell the parents of Dustin Inman that illegal aliens should not be prosecuted for driving without ever having been licensed?”
Supporters of stronger immigration enforcement will host an event this afternoon, ahead of Sunday’s “National Day of Remembrance,” to remember local people who have been killed by illegal immigrants.
The event will be at 2 p.m. today in the south wing of the state capital, on the second floor.
The three victims who will be memorialized are Dustin Inman, 16; Cobb Sheriff’s Deputy Loren Lilly, who was killed in a crash in 2006; and Dominic Malegni, age 5, of Cherokee, who died in a crash in 2004.