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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Suburban police accused of racially profiling of Latinos

Latino Four years after meeting at a Robinson restaurant, Melody Luchuck and Eduardo Vielma decided to marry, planning a simple ceremony at the Phipps Conservatory.

But two weeks before the Aug. 15 event, Robinson police detained Mr. Vielma and his brother, Alberto, both undocumented Mexican immigrants. They now face deportation.

The brothers were taken into police custody after an employee at Kohl's department store accused Alberto Vielma of shoplifting. He called Eduardo Vielma, who came to the store with his boss from nearby Pizza Milano.

Robinson officers asked both Vielma brothers for identification, even though Eduardo Vielma hadn't been accused of anything, according to a police report. Officers didn't ask Eduardo Vielma's boss, Ercan Yali, for identification.

The Vielmas admitted to being in the country illegally, the report said. Robinson Officer Matthew Maritz called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and turned the pair over.

Local immigrant advocates describe the case as a blatant example of racial profiling involving some Allegheny County police departments and the region's small but growing Latino community. They argue that local police shouldn't contact federal authorities unless they are doing a background check on a criminal suspect -- and Eduardo Vielma was not a suspect at the time of his arrest.

"Only the brown person was asked for ID," said Jacqueline Martinez, a Downtown immigration attorney who is representing Eduardo Vielma and Ms. Luchuck. "The police have no business asking anyone about immigration status unless they ask everyone." [Mark Godsey]

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