Discussion of Car Impoundments and Secure Communities Program
By Silvia Uribe
Yesterday in Goleta, immigrants and their allies came together to talk about what’s happening in Santa Barbara County in relation to immigration.
The goal of the Community Values Forum, organized by P.U.E.B.L.O at San Raphael’s Church, on Hollister Avenue, was to create an opportunity for community members and elected leaders to learn about and discuss issues of immigration reform and local enforcement policies that affect our immigrant community.
Around 100 people, including a handful of elected officials, including Supervisor Salud Carbajal, Santa Barbara City Council members Grant House and Das Williams, and Goleta City Council member Ed Easton, were present at the forum. A representative of Congresswoman Lois Capps read a message from her boss, and a representative of Police Chief Cam Sanchez was also present.
Those attending the event listened to a very informative panel touching on two main topics. The first was titled “Car Impoundments in Santa Barbara: Good for Public Safety?” The second topic was the Secure Communities Program, and how it operates in our criminal justice system. Attendees were also able to hear a couple of very touching testimonies on how our immigrant community suffers the most consequences from these programs.
A study presented by Greg Prieto, from UCSB, showed that in 2007 and in 2008 the number of cars impounded at check points from people whose licenses were suspended or revoked due to previous DUI’s or for some other reason, was around 300 both years; whereas the number of cars impounded from those who had no license at all (as distinct from a suspended or revoked license) went from 900 in 2007, to 1250 in 2008. What this means, Prieto said, is that those checkpoints are not making our roads safer from dangerous drivers, as they’re supposed to, but are instead hurting the immigrant population.
From this presentation, attendees learned that the law states that if a person who has no license gets pulled over by the police, the officer can use his discretion to not have the car impounded immediately, but to give the driver a chance to have someone with a valid California driver’s license pick up the car and take it away. However, this discretion is rarely practiced, and the car is almost always immediately impounded. Prieto said that in San Francisco, as a result of public pressure, police allow for a 20-minute window for a licensed driver to show up.
Mateo, a 39-year-old man, in his testimony on this issue (in a compilation published by PUEBLO, called En Las Sombras del Paraiso, or In the Shadows of Paradise) said: “It is very traumatic having to drive without a license all the time. I fear an encounter with police. Because of this fear, and my nervousness, I make mistakes that give me away with police. Now I drive a $500 car, to reduce my loss in case the police stop me and impound my car simply because I don’t have a license.”
Melissa Keaney, from the National Immigration Law Center, informed the audience that Santa Barbara’s agreement with Secure Communities was made with the Sheriff’s Office, and that it started on January 5, 2010. She ennumerated some of this program’s irregularities.
1) ICE (Immigration Control and Enforcement) is not paying attention to racial profiling cases or to arrests with no reason.
2) There is no transparency: The Department of Homeland Security has not regulated any part of this program, and there are no records to be reviewed.
3) The numbers are not clear: None of ICE publications have information on Secure Communities and there’s no provision for data collection or for audits.
After listening to these presentations and the testimonies of a couple of people, Supervisor Carbajal made the commitment to meet with Sheriff Bill Brown to talk about the current situation and how we want Santa Barbara County to be fair with all its residents.
Likewise, Das Williams and Grant House said that they will start the conversation at the Santa Barbara City Council to talk about these issues. Ed Easton said that he will do as much as he can to promote this conversation within the City of Goleta government. A committee put together by PUEBLO will be formed to follow up on these commitments in order to further the movement against discriminatory and un-American Legislation.
Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.
Cross-posted at Independent.com