02/2012

A Traffic Arrest, a Mother’s Nightmare

Martha

Martha was pulling out of a restaurant parking lot in central Alabama when she saw the police lights flashing behind her.

She hadn’t been overly concerned about HB 56. She’s married to a U.S. citizen and is in the process of adjusting her status to comply with immigration law.

“After the law passed, I felt pretty calm,” she said. “I would get scared when I saw the police, but I just stayed calm because I thought, since I haven’t done anything wrong, there’s no way I’ll go to jail.”

Now, she was worried, particularly because she feared being separated from her young son, Julio, a U.S. citizen who was in the car with her.

The officer asked Martha, 19, for her license. She didn’t have one. He asked her for any form of identification. She obliged.

“He said, ‘Do you know what’s going on with this law that passed in Alabama?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ Then he went back to his car.”

Martha would later learn that she was stopped for not having her lights on. She called her husband, and soon her husband’s aunt arrived at the scene to pick up Julio if necessary. But the aunt left empty-handed; a social worker took the toddler.

“The baby was really scared when he realized that he had to go with them,” Martha said. “It was so sad.”

Three additional officers were on the scene of this traffic stop in a county with a population of less than 45,000 people. Martha was arrested for violating HB 56 and taken to jail.

“I didn’t know how long I would be there without seeing my son, my husband and my family,” Martha said. “It was very difficult. The most difficult thing for me was when they put me in handcuffs.” Fortunately, her husband was able to pick up Julio that night.

While in jail, an official gave Martha an earful.

“One of the officials was saying we should go back to our countries if we’re illegals and come back here legally, because we come here to take things for free, like food stamps, insurance, benefits, many other things.”

It’s a monologue she heard repeatedly over the next two days. Immigration officials picked up Martha three days after her arrest and took her to Montgomery, where she was released later that afternoon. Her stepfather and other community members had been working to get her released.

The experience has changed Martha. She believes people look at her differently now that she has been to jail.

“I hope they succeed in getting rid of this law because there are many innocent people that should not have to go through this situation. Just for being undocumented, they don’t deserve to be separated from their family, like what happened with me.”

Photo by Sarah P. Reynolds