VC STAR: “Curbs on road checkpoints lift illegal immigrants’ fears”

Originally published by the Ventura County Star

From staff and wire reports

Posted December 26, 2011 at 1:28 a.m.

Article Excerpts:

  • … He does not have a driver’s license because he is in the United States illegally, and it would cost about $1,400 to get his Nissan Frontier pickup back from the towing company. He has breathed a little easier since he began getting blast text messages two years ago from activists who scour streets to find checkpoints as they are ­being set up.
    The cat-and-mouse game ends Sunday when a new law takes effect in California to prohibit police from impounding cars at sobriety checkpoints if a motorist’s only offense is being an unlicensed driver. Thousands of cars are towed each year in the state under those circumstances, hitting pocketbooks of illegal immigrants especially hard.
  • “A car is a necessity. It’s not a luxury,” said Aldama, 32, who lives in Escondido with his wife, who is a legal resident, and their 5-year-old son, a U.S. citizen.
    Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, a Los Angeles Democrat who tried unsuccessfully to restore driver licenses to illegal immigrants after California revoked the privilege in 1993, said he introduced the bill to ban towing after learning the notoriously corrupt city of Bell raked in big fees from unlicensed drivers at checkpoints.
    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration paid for 2,553 checkpoints last year, which authorities say helps explain why deaths caused by drunken drivers hit an all-time low in the state.
    Police also ask for drivers’ licenses at the sobriety checkpoints. Supporters of the vehicle impounds say unlicensed drivers are also a roadside hazard and that the new law is misguided.
  • A sharp increase in federally funded sobriety checkpoints in California has fueled controversy.In July, protesters opposing the impounding of cars turned out at a police checkpoint in Oxnard.At the time, Francisco Romero, a member of Todo Poder al Pueblo Collective, said, “These are low-­income workers who need a vehicle to get back and forth to work.”In a news release at the time, the group stated:“Since 2009, we have seen a sharp increase in DUI checkpoints that have become less about checking for drunken drivers and more about the impounding of vehicles of unlicensed drivers.” [read more here]The protesters gathered with the intention of warning drivers about the checkpoint so they could take a side street and avoid officers. Police at the time said the checkpoints were designed primarily to target drunken drivers.

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