March 2011Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck announced Monday that his officers will no longer automatically tow the cars of illegal immigrant drivers stopped at sobriety checkpoints.
The policy comes in response to the concerns of Latino civil rights activists, who say impound fees are unfairly costing otherwise hardworking illegal immigrant drivers hundreds of dollars.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said his department impounds about 1,000 cars a year from illegal immigrants at sobriety checkpoints – not because they’re drunk but because they don’t have driver’s licenses.
“As we reviewed our impound policies it became obvious to me that they had disparate impact on individuals based on something that was entirely out of their control," Beck said.
California doesn’t issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.
Under the new policy, officers will give unlicensed illegal immigrants “reasonable time” to find someone else to drive their cars home.
“No longer will these checkpoints have an adverse impact on somebody merely because of their (immigration) status," Beck said. "The sad truth is that the people who were most impacted by this law were the people that could afford it the least.”
The chief said unlicensed U.S. citizens and legal residents stopped at checkpoints will also be allowed “reasonable time” to find someone else to drive their car home.
Critics of Beck's policy have said undocumented immigrants are not supposed to be in the United States in the first place, and should not be driving.
Latino civil rights activists hailed the Beck’s decision.
"I think that in the course of time he will be acknowledged as a great police chief and a very wise man because this is the right thing to do," said Juan Jose Gutierrez of Vamos Unidos U.S.A.
Gutierrez said some cities - including Bell - target undocumented drivers for impounds as a revenue source.
He and other Latino activists called on those cities to also change their impound policies.
Beck called it "the right thing to do."