Debate over immigration and DWI numbers

May 28, 2008 5:37:11 PM PDT
Police arrested Francisco Martinez and charged him with DWI after the crash that killed three people, but he could face more serious charges.

Studies show a disproportionate number of Latinos are involved in DWI crashes statewide.

There are awareness programs targeting Latino drivers, but there is a debate over whether race or immigration status really matters.

Just out of the hospital, Francisco Javier Martinez, faced a judge with the help of a walker Wednesday.

He survived a fatal crash on Raleigh's beltline Sunday, but two brothers and their teenage friend did not.

Martinez is one of a disproportionate number of Latino drivers accused of drunk driving.

It's a problem law enforcement officials say is made more challenging when the driver are undocumented.

"But it does go further when they are illegal, because a lot of times we don't know if this person is telling us the truth," said Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrision, when referring to the truth as the driver's real name. "A lot of people get caught under one name, they leave the country and then they come back six months later and get caught under another name. They've got a new ID and that's why we're having a lot of the problems we're having."

Harrison says the solution is an immigration fingerprinting program called 287-G. It would automatically flag an offender who is undocumented.

Latino advocates contend fingerprinting mostly catches offenders with minor offenses and does little to curb drunk driving.

"It's not an immigration problem, it's a DWI problem," said Antonio Asion with El Pueblo INC.

Asion argues the number of Latino drivers arrested for DWI is decreasing thanks to awareness campaigns.

He blames demographics not immigration status for the problem.

"We have a relatively young population it is also that same population that consumes a lot of alcohol," Asion said.

"We need a system in place that we can tell who this person is, so hopefully we can keep them off the road," Harrison contends.


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