In a contentious debate that seemed to pit older, white Los Angeles against the more liberal, browner shade of town and the leaders it elected to City Hall, the L.A. police commission today said illegal immigrants could essentially keep their cars when they're caught driving without a license.

The modified rule will allow unlicensed drivers to avoid 30-day impounds if they have insurance, registration and a valid ID.

Under the 4-1 Police Commission vote, such drivers aren't eligible for the deal if …

… they've had suspended or revoked licenses or had been caught driving without one previously.

The new rule avoids the mandatory 30-day impound usually imposed on those caught driving unlicensed in L.A. and instead allows a tow and impound for just a day or a few depending the drivers' ability to get their cars out of hawk.

Under the old way, unlicensed drivers often lost their cars because the 30-day impounds — with towing and storage fees that topped $1,200 — were too costly and sometimes added up to more than the cars were worth.

Immigrants' rights activists argued that cops were essentially taking the vehicles of those who could least afford this to happen — undocumented workers who can't legally obtain licenses in California.

Several Latino politicians, including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, agreed. And few would doubt that LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, in backing the controversial policy change, was bowing to the mayor.

The L.A. police union has been dead against the rule change, arguing that it puts unsafe drivers back on the road and that it's against state law.

In fact the state Legislative Council issued a memo saying California law mandates a 30-day impound for the unlicensed.

But strangely, the office of conservative L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich backed Villairaigosa and Beck by stating that stopping the 30-day impounds would be fully within the law.

Today the police union (Los Angeles Police Protective League) president Tyler Izen sent the Weekly this statement:

The policy change jeopardizes public safety and welfare, as well as the safety of our officers, exposes the City and its officers to liability. The modification directly conflicts with and undermines the official position taken by the City of Los Angeles in Federal Court.

[With reporting from City News Service / @dennisjromero / / @LAWeeklyNews]

LA Weekly