Wichita Newly revised traffic laws in Garden City that impose mandatory jail sentences for drivers repeatedly caught without a license or insurance have spawned fears among some Hispanics in the western Kansas town.
Garden City Mayor Reynaldo Mesa said the traffic ordinance was not meant to single out Hispanics and applies to the whole community. But Hispanic leaders say the measure particularly affects illegal immigrants, because a Social Security number is required to obtain or renew a driver's license in Kansas under a state law that went into effect in July.
"I am not happy doing some of these things," Mesa said, "but at some point it is going to have to click: You can't do that."
The measure garnered little attention when the City Council passed it last month, but alarm has grown as more Hispanic leaders learn about it.
"It is pretty scary," said Armando Minjarez, community organizer for the southwest Kansas chapter of Sunflower Community Action, a Hispanic advocacy group. "People have no idea they are going to be at more risk."
Under the new traffic ordinance, those convicted of driving without a valid driver's license can be fined more than $1,000 and imprisoned for up to six months for a first offense. But repeat offenders face mandatory jail time, which increases for each additional offense to at least 270 days by the sixth or subsequent conviction.
For those convicted of driving without insurance, the new ordinance imposes fines of between $300 and $1,000 and up to six months in jail for a first offense.
Police Chief James Hawkins said his officers issue at least one citation a day to an unlicensed driver in the city of about 27,000 residents.
"We think it is a huge problem," Hawkins said.
Police say the numbers of those driving without insurance in Garden City is much higher.