Some Unlicensed Drivers Risk More Than a FineBy JULIA PRESTON and ROBERT GEBELOFF LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. It was just another suburban fender-bender. A car zoomed into an intersection and braked too late to stop at a red light. The Georgia woman driving it, an American citizen, left with a wrecked auto, a sore neck and a traffic fine. But for Felipa Leonor Valencia, the Mexican woman who was driving the Jeep that was hit that day in March, the damage went far beyond a battered bumper. The crash led Ms. Valencia, an illegal immigrant who did not have a valid drivers license, to 12 days in detention and the start of deportation proceedings after 17 years of living in Georgia. Like Ms. Valencia, an estimated 4.5 million illegal immigrants nationwide are driving regularly, most without licenses, according to an analysis by The New York Times. Only three states New Mexico, Utah and Washington currently issue licenses without proof of legal residence in the United States. Many states have adopted tough new laws to prevent illegal immigrants from driving, while expanding immigration enforcement by the state and local police. As a result, at least 30,000 illegal immigrants who were stopped for common traffic violations in the last three years have ended up in deportation, Department of Homeland Security figures show. The numbers are rapidly increasing, aggravating tensions in the national debate over immigration. The tensions seem likely to persist. The Senate may take up a bill next week that would give legal status to some illegal immigrant students. Its fate is uncertain, and prospects appear dim for a controversial overhaul, supported by President Obama, that would give legal status to 11 million illegal immigrants. In the absence of federal action, states are stepping in, trying their own solutions. In Georgia, voters have been worried about unlicensed illegal immigrants whose driving skills are untested and who often lack insurance, including some who caused well-publicized accidents. Lawmakers have tightened requirements to keep illegal immigrants from obtaining licenses and license plates, and have increased penalties for driving without them. There are certain things you cant do in the state of Georgia if you are an illegal immigrant, said State Senator Chip Rogers, a Republican who was a prime mover behind some of the traffic measures. One of them is, you cant drive. Many Georgia counties have begun to cooperate formally with the Department of Homeland Security, so that illegal immigrants detained by the local police are turned over more consistently to federal immigration authorities. Still, according to The Timess analysis, 200,000 illegal immigrants in Georgia are driving to work daily. For them, the new laws mean that any police stop, whether for a violation that caused an accident, or for a broken taillight or another drivers mistake, can lead to deportation. Since 2006, thousands of immigrants, mostly from Latin America, have been deported from Georgia after traffic violations, often shaking up long-settled families. The stepped-up enforcement has been applauded by many citizens. It has also antagonized the fast-growing Hispanic communities in and near Atlanta, where residents say the police are singling them out for traffic stops. Illegal immigrants say they continue to risk driving without a license in order to keep their jobs. We have to work to support our kids, so we have to drive, Ms. Valencia said in Spanish, after she was released on a $7,500 bond in late October from an immigration detention center in Alabama to begin her legal fight against deportation. If we drive, we get stopped by the police. The first thing they ask is, Can I see your license? Dont have one? Go to jail. And from jail to deportation. A Sheriff Cracks Down Not a few unlicensed Hispanic drivers are traveling the chronically congested roads here in Gwinnett County, a commuter destination northeast of Atlanta. Years of growth resulted in spreading subdivisions and state highways that converge at vast intersections. Public bus routes are few. To get around the county, you have to go by car. After several high-profile crimes committed by illegal immigrants, the sheriff, Butch Conway, a blunt-spoken lawman who rides motorcycles and breeds horses in his spare time, made it his goal to reduce their population in his jail and his county. Just the fact that these people committed serious crimes when they should not have been in the country to begin with, Sheriff Conway said, I think that was an insult to the people of Gwinnett. He enrolled the detention center here in Lawrenceville, the county seat, in a program with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency known as ICE. Under the program, known as 287 (g), 18 of his deputies were trained to question suspects about their immigration status when they arrive at the jail. The deputies place holds, known as detainers, on immigrants they determine to be here illegally, so when the inmates are released from the jail they can be turned over directly to ICE. The agreement with ICE specifies that Sheriff Conway is to focus on removing criminal aliens who pose a threat to public safety or a danger to the community. The sheriff says that should include those stopped for driving without a license. I find it offensive that they just thumb their nose at our laws and operate vehicles they are not licensed to operate, he said, on top of the fact that they are here illegally. String of Violations When some Gwinnett County residents explain why they support a crackdown on illegal immigrants, one case they cite is that of Celso Campos Duartes. Mr. Campos, a Mexican, accumulated at least five moving violations in five years, including a hit-and-run accident, before he was turned over to ICE for deportation last month through the county jail 287(g) program. One afternoon in October 2005, Mr. Campos was driving his Ford compact down a county road just as Aubrey Sosebee, an 82-year-old retiree, reached the black mailbox at the end of his driveway. The house sits way off the road, and that was his exercise every day, to walk up to get the mail and then walk back, said Rusty Sosebee, 59, one of Mr. Sosebees sons. Mr. Campos struck Mr. Sosebee, knocking him to the pavement. Witnesses told the police that Mr. Campos tried to turn his vehicle and leave but several drivers blocked his path. Mr. Campos sprinted into nearby woods, where police search dogs found him hours later. Three of Mr. Sosebees children, who gathered recently to recount the accident, could not recall the events without breaking down. He knows all of the illegal actions that he has taken, Rhonda Neely, 49, Mr. Sosebees daughter, said of Mr. Campos. Hes more concerned with getting away and not getting caught than with my dads life, laying there on the road, the person he just ran over. Mr. Campos, though sober, was driving without a license and with plates from another vehicle. Although insurance is mandatory in Georgia, he had none. Mr. Sosebee received no compensation from Mr. Campos for his medical care. Mr. Sosebee never recovered from the head injury he suffered in the fall, his son Rusty said. He remained disoriented, his son said, and four months later he died. Convicted of leaving the scene of an accident, Mr. Campos served 26 months in the county jail. But at the end of his sentence, he walked away. He was arrested two more times for traffic offenses. After the Sosebees learned in May, to their disbelief, that Mr. Campos was still in the country, they contacted the news media. The furor ensured that ICE would not let Mr. Campos slip away again. In an interview in October in the Gwinnett County Detention Center, Mr. Campos, now 37, was impassive and unapologetic. I ran to protect my life, he said, speaking in Spanish at a jailhouse visiting booth. The accident had already happened, there was nothing I could do to avoid it. But Mr. Campos did not dispute his eventual deportation. The residents of Georgia have every right to object to people who drive without a license. Read more at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/10/us/10license.html?ref=us ---------------------------------------------------------- Once again, it is proved that America is under attack by these illegal invaders who offer nothing to the US but the tremendous burden of the cost to the US taxpayer and lives of US citizens.