A report in La Opinion this week (Google translate) indicates that, yeah, cops tend to target immigrant neighborhoods when they set up DUI checkpoints. Why? Maybe because so many unlicensed drivers — illegal immigrants can't get California licenses — means police can seize lots of cars worth lots of cash.
The story suggests that in these tight times for municipal finances, nabbing vehicles — and charging nearly $1,200 a pop in towing and storage — helps close budget gaps.
If suspects don't pick up their cars they're auctioned off. Cities often get a cut of profits above the towing and storage costs.
La Opinion reports that from Jan. 1 to Sept. 6 the Los Angeles Police Department conducted 66 DUI and drivers license checkpoints — 12 in the heavily Latino eastern San Fernando Valley, six in the West Valley, 10 in Hollywood, four in northeastern L.A. (which includes the likes of Highland Park), 10 in the Harbor Division area (San Pedro, Wilmington, Harbor Gateway), eight in Mid-Wilshire and Koreatown, six in Venice and six in Echo Park.
No check points were listed in West L.A., arguably the city's whitest, most non-immigrant area. Police say they simply target areas where more traffic crashes are known to occur.
The paper analyzed 2008 city of L.A. checkpoints and found that for every six drunk drivers arrested 31 cars of unlicensed drivers were seized.
The piece also cites research that found majority-Latino cities in Los Angeles County see three times as many car confiscations via checkpoint as do other municipalities.
It's a sore spot for local state Sen. Gil Cedillo, who has repeatedly tried to get a law passed to allow illegal immigrants to be able to obtain California drivers licenses — as they were once able to do.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has blocked the attempts, although he had expressed sympathy for the effort in the past.
The situation feels like fallout from federal immigration policy, or lack thereof: It's illegal to be illegal in the U.S., but we still have undocumented workers who mow our lawns, wash our cars and pick our fruit — yeah?
So when they drive to work and toil for substandard wages (illegal acts that are hard to protest since they're, er, illegal), we take their cars — for the benefit of municipal and county budgets.
Maybe, at the least, local politicians should stop whining about how Washington isn't pitching in enough to deal with the costs of illegal immigration. After all, the locals are at least getting free wheels out of the deal.