ACLU says California Highway Patrol targets Latino drivers

December 5, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
A crowd of around 100 farm workers and their families gathered at the Catholic Church in Caruthers on Wednesday to accuse the California Highway Patrol of racial profiling. They've enlisted the help of the ACLU in claiming officers pull over undocumented farm workers on flimsy charges, then impound their vehicles because they don't have drivers licenses.

They've asked Julie Mass of the American Civil Liberties Union for help. She told Action News, "What we've discovered in Caruthers is an ongoing practice. The highway patrol has been pulling people over for either no reason or very minimal reasons and putting their cars in 30 day impoundment based on their not having a driver's license."

The fact undocumented residents can't get drivers licenses makes them targets but Highway Patrol Chief James Abrams says they are just enforcing the law. "We have to make sure our highways are safe for everybody to use and when we do encounter unlicensed drivers we have an obligation to insure that vehicle isn't used to be driven on the road by an unlicensed driver."

Modesta De Jesus claims he car was impounded after she was pulled over, in front of her own house. It was taken to a tow yard in Caruthers, but she couldn't afford the $13 hundred impound fee. "Not right now, we don't have the money to get it out or to purchase another one so I don't know what we're going to do."

She says she has to try getting rides to get work and to take her three kids to school and the doctor.

For tow operator Thomas Zepeda it's a familiar story, but he believes the CHP has good reason to impound the cars he's towed in. "We get a lot of people it doesn't matter what race you are. It's everything here. It's mostly if you look at the books no license, speeding, they got phony tags, no registration, no insurance."

Highway Patrol Chief James Abrams says he is concerned about the claims his officers are singling out farm workers, and has promised to investigate the claims. "A lot of what I heard here today gives me concern because a lot of what I was hearing was more about why the stops were occurring so I'm looking forward to looking into that just to make sure the reasons for the stops are sound."

The ACLU is glad the CHP will investigate, but believes the 30 day impound is too harsh, and believes most drivers caught without a license could simply be given a ticket.

A bill to allow undocumented workers to get licensed has been introduced in the state legislature. Similar efforts in the past have failed to win approval.


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