New law requires officers to investigate citizenship

Officer Kristi Colburn of the Florence Police Department making a traffic stop in Florence Sunday afternoon.

Alabama drivers should be aware that driving without having a physical copy of a driver’s license could mean spending some time in jail.

As part of the new immigration law, people who are pulled over by the police for traffic violations must be able to prove they have the legal right to a driver’s license.

This could mean presenting a physical copy to the officer or having the officer pull up the driver’s license status on his patrol car computer.

While driving without a license is in itself illegal, the new law requires an investigation of citizenship if the license status cannot be proven.

Florence police Chief Rick Singleton explains the law in more detail.

“The law mandates that if we stop somebody without a driver’s license, we must make a responsible effort to find out if they have a valid license,” he said. “We can look them up on the computer, but if they don’t show up or the computers are down, they will be taken to the nearest magistrate, where they have to prove citizenship.”

He said to prove citizenship, one must present the same documents presented to acquire a driver’s license, such as a birth certificate, social security card and some type of photo ID. If unable to present such documents, the police will contact customs.

“We have to determine legal status by contacting legal customs,” Singleton said. “If they are here illegally, they will be deported.”

Customs has 48 hours to find out the status of citizenship. If they are unable to determine if someone in custody is illegally in the U.S. within that time frame, the person must be released.

Singleton also explained that police officers can’t profile on the issue of driver’s license deportation. That means an officer can’t suspect a person is driving without a license and pull them over. Officers reserve the right to responsible suspicion, but they cannot pull over someone because of ethnicity alone.

UNA police officers will have to follow the new law’s requirements.

“The main purpose (of the law) is to make sure the information provided is accurate,” said Sergeant Terry Parker, deputy director of UNA police.

He explains it is to prevent someone from posing as another resident.

Some UNA students are not receptive to the new law.

“I think making sure you have the legal capacity to drive should be the extent of it, not whether or not you are a citizen,” said Chelsey Elrod, a political science major at UNA. “I don’t think any part of the immigration law is good. I just question their intentions on whether or not it’s saving American jobs or an issue of racism.”

She believes it is giving the police too much power and pushing away foreign business.

Recently, a total of four people have been detained and deported as a result of the new immigration law.