Following six months of advocacy work by the congregation of IKAR, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officials announced that they would no longer impound unlicensed drivers’ cars at sobriety checkpoints, a victory for undocumented immigrants who cannot obtain drivers licenses under state law.
Effective immediately, if officers stop unlicensed drivers at checkpoints — which are designed to curb drunk driving, not penalize undocumented immigrants for driving without licenses — the unlicensed driver can call a licensed driver to the scene to take control of his or her vehicle.
“This is a really small but significant step for relieving the burden” of the immigrant population, said Wendy Braitman, a member of IKAR’s Minyan Tzedek team, a social action initiative, referring to the consequences involved with car impoundment: Vehicles are often held for up to 30 days and are costly to retrieve.
Braitman added that this is “an issue that none of us in the Jewish community knew anything about, because it really doesn’t impact us,” but she maintained that it is nevertheless significant.
LAPD assistant chief Michel Moore said the decision “was meant to begin improving the way impounds are done regarding unlicensed drivers. This is part of a larger issue,” he said. “We’re looking at the way we do impounds not only at DUI checkpoints but also at regular traffic stops.”
Still, unlicensed drivers who are stopped will receive a citation, as they did prior to revisions of LAPD’s protocol.
IKAR, working with LA Voice Pico, a coalition of religious organizations, schools and neighborhood organizations, welcomed LAPD’s announcement during a press conference on March 14 at LAPD’s downtown headquarters.
This is “a great moment for IKAR, for our city, and a great step toward a hopefully more expansive policy of enfranchising the marginalized immigrant community in our city,” wrote IKAR’s Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann in a recent e-mail. “This policy is an improvement because it takes us closer to a world in which people are treated with equality and fairness.”
– Ryan Torok, Staff Writer