Are DUI Checkpoints Targeting Illegal Immigrants?

A recent report by California Watch questions whether California's ubiquitous, weekend DUI checkpoints are really nets cast to seize the vehicles of illegal immigrants. The state-aided checkpoints, which net $40 million annually in fines and seizures, are often in or near Latino neighborhoods, and vehicles seized (usually for lack of drivers licenses) mostly come from minorities -- "often illegal immigrants," according to the report.

California Watch states that, despite a 2005 court ruling allows very limited vehicle seizures when a driver is unlicensed, departments across the state have "ratcheted up" vehicle seizures at DUI checkpoints. Last year 24,000 cars and trucks were seized while only 3,200 suspected drunk drivers were arrested at the checkpoints. The report states that illegal immigrants are less likely to challenge a seizure.

Checkpoints in majority Latino cities net the most car seizures, and "sixty-one percent of the checkpoints took place in locations with at least 31 percent Hispanic population," according to the report. Sen. Gil Cedillo has been trying for years to reinstate a California law that gave the right to obtain drivers licenses to anyone -- including the undocumented. Cedillo has said one of his inspirations is seeing illegal immigrants left by the side of the road as their vehicle -- often their most valued possession -- is towed away. Despite promises to the contrary, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his veto threats have continually stood in the way of such a bill.

What's more, California Watch reports, some check points are padded -- often unecessarily so -- with cops, likely because their overtime for working such DUI operations is paid for by the state.

And 2010, the report notes, has been called "the year of the checkpoint" in California, with 2,500 operations scheduled. Vehicles seized from unlicensed drivers can be kept in a tow yard for 30 days (much longer than the one-day stay for drunk driver's cars), netting $1,000 or more in storage and fees that's often split with the local city.

The report states that as cities face budget cuts and declining tax revenues as a result of the recession, they're focusing on vehicle seizures as a money maker. It notes that Montebello -- a city with checkpoints that are among the state's "least effective at getting drunks off the road" -- an incentive program provides the city $200 per tow from a towing company when more than 151 cars are hauled away per month.

(First spotted at LAist).


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