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Resource ID: #25832
Escondido, California, has a long history of discriminating against its large Latino population. For years the City Council had tried and failed to enact legislation that would make it difficult for Spanish-speaking immigrants, documented or otherwise, to take up residence there. But “Escondido Police Under Fire” uncovers how, in 2004, local legislators along with the Escondido Police Department found an ingenious way to rid the city of undocumented immigrants — and make a profit. In 2004, Congress gave the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration funds to encourage states to get drunk drivers off the road. Escondido some of these funds and began one of the most rigorous Driving Under the Influence checkpoint programs in the State of California. The taxpayer funds allowed Escondido police to set up sobriety checkpoints several times a month. The stated goal was to catch inebriated drivers and to raise public awareness about the dangers of drunk driving. But Escondido police quickly discovered that they could make money by impounding the vehicles of unlicensed drivers. At the time, in California, if someone was caught driving without a license, their vehicle could be seized and subjected to a 30-day impound. In Escondido, the fees to retrieve the impounded vehicle were exorbitant. Escondido police began systematically asking every driver who came through a sobriety checkpoint to show a driver's license. Escondido Police, the investigation reveals, soon brokered an agreement with Immigration Customs Enforcement to run background checks on all unlicensed drivers at the sobriety checkpoints to ascertain whether they were legally in the country. If a perfectly sober undocumented immigrant drove up to a sobriety checkpoint and could not produce a driver's license — even though the checkpoints were being funded to get drunk drivers off the road — the unlicensed driver's car would be impounded, ICE would run a background check, and the driver would be deported. Quickly, these federally funded sobriety checkpoints had become de facto immigration checkpoints — at an enormous profit to the Escondido police. From 2008 to 2011 the city of Escondido and tow companies with city contracts pulled in $11 million in fees, citations and auctioned vehicles from checkpoints. And hundreds of drivers were subsequently deported.