DWIs Rooted in Immigrants' Culture
The much-publicized tragedy of immigration enforcement is at least equaled by the tragedies of non-enforcement. Addressing the latter, U.S. Congressman Phil Gingrey has just introduced H.R. 1355, the Scott Gardner Act, to
close loopholes that allow illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. after being convicted of drunk driving. The proposal is named in memory of a North Carolina man who was killed by an illegal immigrant drunk driver with five prior DWI charges.
North Carolina has been particularly affected by phenomenon. As the News and Observer reports, immigrants and their advocates note a variety of reasons Hispanic men are responsible for an inordinate number of drunk driving incidents:
When Eliseo Hernandez came to the United States 30 years ago, he thought he drove better after a few beers. Driving drunk had been normal back in Mexico, he said. But Hernandez, 54, learned of its perils firsthand. He quit the practice after falling asleep at the wheel and hitting a tree 18 years ago...
In 2005, there were 37 alcohol-related crashes caused by Hispanic drivers for every 10,000 Hispanics in the state, according to the UNC Highway Safety Research Center. That is more than three times the rate of alcohol-related crashes among non-Hispanics...
Last month, a Johnston County father and son died in a fiery crash authorities say was caused by Luciano Tellez, 31, an illegal immigrant from Mexico. Dwane Braswell, 35, and his son Jerry, 9, were riding in a tractor-trailer cab on N.C. 210 in the Cleveland community of Johnston County when Tellez struck the tractor and rolled it into a ditch, where it caught fire.
Empty beer cans were found in Tellez' car, but authorities say it is impossible to know whether he was drunk.
It was the latest in a string of such accidents caused by Hispanic men. In February in Salisbury, a woman who was eight months pregnant and her unborn child were killed. In October, it was two college students and a high school boy. In January 2006, a man from El Salvador killed a Hillsborough woman in a head-on crash and fled, leaving an injured passenger in his own car...
Bobby Dunn, who counsels Spanish-speaking DWI convicts in Johnston and Wilson counties, said his clients are often young men far from home with money in their pockets for the first time. Many were too poor to have cars in Mexico, so they have little experience behind the wheel.
They also see drinking as a way of showing their manhood.
"The magic number is 12," Dunn said, or "un doce" in Spanish. "If you can drink 12 beers, you're a man."
There are a variety of possible solutions. As the article details, education among the Hispanic community is an important starting point. The elephant in the room during the debate, however, is non-enforcement of existing U.S. immigration law by the federal government. H.R. 1355 represents an important step toward forcing the feds and local law enforcement to end the practice of overlooking immigration status when illegal aliens are convicted of crimes.
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