by Marvin J. Ramírez
NEWS ANALYSIS – Besides for being known for its immense colorful gay population and its Golden Gate Bridge and tourist attractions, San Francisco is also known for its caring for the defenseless, those with AIDS, and especially those persecuted by the United States Immigration and Custom Enforcement U.S.I.C.E.
For that endeavor, San Francisco enacted a Sanctuary ordinance almost a decade ago, to protect the immigrant communities from immigration agents seeking cooperation from local police to arrest them.
San Francisco is a city of sanctuary, “where immigrants are welcome and safe, regardless of legal status.” Under the 1989 City of Refuge law, meant to protect Central American war refugees,” no city employee shall use city resources to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law.”
However, the city’s employees are indeed using the city’s resources when the police department waits in corners in areas where most of the undocumented residents frequent and shop, and tow their cars.
This sanctuary law has really made a difference in the lives of thousands lawful residents who have undocumented family members until the state enacted laws against them. These people work and live like ordinary citizens, but as opposed to those who are documented, they can’t obtain a DMV license, but have to drive as a necessity.
They drive with fear of getting caught by aggressive cops who sometimes enjoy doing that dirty job, as they act with indifference to the pain caused on these people when confiscating the only means of transportation they have for the family. They use their vehicles to take their family members to school, to the doctor, to work, or when there is a medical emergency.
San Francisco politicians, however, have been silent on this area, impounding the vehicles of those stopped for usually minor traffic offenses, and taking their cars for lacking a driver’s license.
These mostly humble, working people with families and children, are the same undocumented immigrants supposedly protected by the City’s Sanctuary law from ICE, but obviously is not protecting their private property in San Francisco.
El Reportero has received complains that motorcycled officers follow them and stop them for no reason or simply for suspicion that they might be undocumented immigrants based on their humble appearance. The traffic stop usually ends up with the confiscation of the person’s vehicle in the absence of a driver’s license or auto insurance, and the passengers grabbing their belonging and walking away, sometimes with groceries and children.
Then the business interest takes place, giving the city and the towing companies huge profits no one can refuse.
A 30-day impounding has been the rule, which most victims of this action consider too much of a financial burden.
Neither from the Mayor or the Board of Supervisors, has come a word in addressing this issue. By simply enacting an ordinance that could provide a driving permit within the city for those who lack a social security number – a California requirement to grant a DMV license – the problem could be resolved.
The Board of Supervisors could draft a resolution immediately prohibiting the SFPD from temporarily enforcing the state law that allows them to impound their vehicles until an immigration reform bill is passed by the U.S. Congress. Because, aren’t the undocumented immigrants also protected under the sanctuary ordinance when they drive?
By following this suggestion, the city will again become the spearhead in the defense of immigrants, especially in this area where the state has failed them most: to grant them a driver’s license, which will allow them to get insurance and therefore protect us all.
According to following passages of an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the State Senate already has voted late last year 25 to 14 to create a special exemption in state law that would reduce the mandatory 30-day impoundment of cars driven by unlicensed drivers, so that offenders who have never had a valid license can get their cars back after 24 hours. Right now, when officers impound the cars of unlicensed drivers, the mandatory term is 30 days.
The article reported that Pomona resident John Whitney, a member of the Christian group One LA that started the drive for the bill express that he supports a 30-day impound for drunken drivers and others who drive without a license, but as a “conservative Christian evangelical,” he wants to see different treatment for those who cannot get a license because they are not legal residents. He added that some tow companies charge too much to car owners; after 30 days, the cost exceeds what many hard-working immigrant families can readily absorb.
One bill supporter is Pomona Police Chief James Lewis, according to the article. Earlier this year, his department reduced the length of impoundment time from 30 days to one day. Whitney believes that when Pomona police impound a car for one day instead of one month, they enjoy better relations with the community, and improved community policing.
(The San Francisco Chronicle contributed to this article).