02/2012

Traffic Stop Puts Life on Hold for Family

Jorge and Gladis

Jorge was driving home from work in a small town in South Alabama late one night when he was pulled over by the police.

It was a traffic stop that would end with the police charging Jorge with driving without a license and for the broken light over the vehicle’s license plate. He was also charged with failing to pay a speeding ticket he had received earlier.

Though Jorge, an undocumented immigrant, had to deal with the consequences of these charges, under Alabama’s anti-immigrant law, the stakes were much higher for him. Jorge faced deportation, which could have taken him away from his wife and two children, ages 4 and 7. Though he wasn’t deported at the time, Jorge was jailed and separated from his family for a month—from the first week of December 2011 until the first week of January 2012.

He wasn’t with his family for Christmas.

He wasn’t with them to celebrate the New Year.

He was behind bars, facing the loss of his family—not because he was charged with a serious crime—but as a result of common traffic charges.

The traffic stop seemed excessive to Jorge’s wife, Gladis. When she arrived at the scene, three police cars were there.

Then, when she went to the courthouse, she was dismayed by what she saw. “I saw people in the court for drugs and other crimes, and then there was my husband, just there for two small tickets,” she said.

Jorge was eventually transferred to a detention center in Louisiana, where he would face possible deportation. Gladis did her best to keep the children from worrying.

“I’m not telling my daughter where my husband is, I just tell her that he’s on a trip for work far away and that he’ll be home soon,” she said at the time. “But [my daughter] says, ‘Mom, it’s so strange that he’s not calling us.’ They love him. He always helped me so much with the kids.”

While Jorge was in jail, Gladis was able to work his job as a painter and provide money for the family. She also found a lawyer who was able to secure Jorge’s release. Gladis isn’t certain of the specifics. She knows the judge asked her husband questions about his family, which may have helped him avoid deportation for the time being.

The ordeal has been expensive. The lawyer was able to reduce Jorge’s bail from $11,000 to $4,500. It was still a lot of money for the family, but it wasn’t out of reach. Gladis used her car to borrow some money. Family and community members pitched in.

Now, Jorge is working constantly to earn the money to repay the debt. Gladis hopes she’ll soon be able to get back the car she leveraged.

Jorge still has a court appearance ahead of him. And the family still lives in a state where a traffic stop could leave a child without a parent. But for now, Jorge and his family are together.

Photo by Sarah P. Reynolds