Southland activists defend LA impound policy revamp, warn undocumented drivers of checkpoints

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Southland immigration activists are warning undocumented, unlicensed drivers to be careful behind the wheel as authorities conduct holiday checkpoints in Los Angeles. They spoke Thursday at a downtown Los Angeles news conference. The message rubs some the wrong way.

“A great majority of people who are losing their cars are undocumented people," said Ron Gochez of the Southern California Immigration Coalition. "And the great majority of those undocumented people are Latinos.”

Gochez maintains that the state law that allows LAPD officers to impound drivers’ vehicles and hold them for 30 days is unfair and discriminatory.

Members of the Coalition issued a two-pronged message. They praised Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the LAPD for reconsidering rules on impounding cars. Activists also urged caution behind the wheel.

Coalition members argue the policy is a way for officials to deport hardworking undocumented immigrants.

A law enforcement union official challenged that position.

“What is going to happen when a CHP officer stops you?" asked Marshall McClain, who heads the L.A. AirportPeace Officers Association. "No, answer my question.”

The Association represents hundreds of cops and firefighters. McClain takes issue with Mayor Villaraigosa’s vow to stop impounds for first-time offenders.

McClain tried to convince activists that changing the law would jeopardize public safety. He contends that the coalition’s sending the wrong message to unlicensed drivers.

“If you’re saying go ahead and drive — that’s what you’re saying, correct?" McClain said. "You’re saying you can’t be naive that people are [not] going to drive.”

An activist responded, “People have necessities and they’re going to drive, period.”

The group stopped short of telling motorists not to drive. They say it's unrealistic to expect undocumented, unlicensed immigrants won't drive to visit family for the holidays or go to work.

McClain says all motorists should abide by the laws of the roadway, and that includes having a valid driver's license.

Recent national studies have indicated that nearly 15 percent of all drivers involved in deadly crashes didn’t have licenses. But activists say those numbers don’t reveal how many of them were undocumented, or were first-time offenders.

LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck has reportedly said that he supports revamping an impound policy he’s called a burden on illegal immigrants.

Under a proposed L.A. city ordinance, law enforcement would allow unlicensed motorists they pull over to allow someone else to drive their car home for them.

This story has been updated.

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