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Undocumented Immigrants and Driver's Licenses
Following the report of a tragedy today where an alleged undocumented immigrant with neither driver’s license nor insurance ran a red light while speeding and injured six people, including a pedestrian, I have received a number of phone calls and emails from Richmond residents about City policies towards enforcing vehicle laws and conducting checkpoints.

First of all, the City of Richmond has no policies that stand in the way of enforcing vehicle laws. The City has adopted policies that only prohibit police from informing, assisting or cooperating with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) formerly known as Immigration and Naturalization Service, without the specific authorization of the Richmond City Manager or the Chief of Police, except where there is criminal activity. For copies of City policies, which were adopted unanimously by the City Council, click here and click here.

The lack of a national immigration policy for many years has resulted in numerous challenges for local government, and the solutions lie with the president, the Congress, the California governor and the California Legislature, all of whom have failed to act.  Not one among us, unless you are a complete recluse, has not benefited economically, directly or indirectly, from the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States. If we enjoy the benefits, we have an obligation to come to grips with the challenges.

However, I want to be clear. I believe that driving is a privilege and that no one should be driving without a license and insurance. I support the Richmond Police Department’s use of checkpoints to enforce vehicle codes as well as to look for weapons, drugs and criminals.

I do not support racial profiling or discrimination in operating checkpoints. I believe checkpoints should be operated fairly and indiscriminately and, very importantly, compassionately.

The City of Richmond City Council has gone on record as supporting “a comprehensive immigration reform bill that is compassionate, fair, just and humane, and recognizes all immigrants for their contributions to our economic and social life” (Click here). It is unfair to municipalities to have to come to grips with a challenge that results from lack of a national policy. I support what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has written about immigration reform:

The President should work collaboratively and on a bipartisan basis to pass comprehensive immigration reform. He should embrace proposals such as the STRIVE Act by Congressmen Gutierrez and Flake, which provides an excellent framework and reflects a strong commitment by a bipartisan group of House Members toward realistic and comprehensive immigration reform.

Our priorities on immigration reform are clear. Our first responsibility to the American people is their safety. We must secure our borders and enforce our laws, while also protecting against discrimination and adhering faithfully to the rule of law. At the same time, we must enact immigration reform that is humane and honors our American tradition of being a nation of immigrants.

By starting House Judiciary Committee hearings and introducing the STRIVE Act, the House has already begun the hard work of addressing immigration reform.

Following is today’s West County Times article about the incident:

Richmond crash underscores policy argument over illegal immigrants

By Karl Fischer
West County Times

Article Launched: 09/22/2008 05:13:59 PM PDT

Ricardo Samayoa carried neither a driver's license nor vehicle registration when he barreled through a red light in Richmond on Monday morning behind the wheel of a friend's sport utility vehicle.

The 33-year-old Guatemalan also lacked residency documents — exactly the kind of driver social-justice advocates say Richmond police hunt during their monthly, traffic-stopping checkpoints around the city.

Better believe it, police say.

"We view checkpoints as an important part of stopping hit-and-run accidents and crashes in this city involving people who are not trained to properly operate a motor vehicle and not prepared to take responsibility financially for the damage they cause," police Lt. Mark Gagan said. "This morning's crash was a perfect example."

Samayoa wounded six people, himself most seriously, when he sped through the intersection of Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue about 45 mph and crashed the borrowed GMC Yukon into a Honda containing two women and a pair of 3-year-old girls, police said.

The 7:25 a.m. collision also seriously hurt a 19-year-old woman walking across Seventh with the green light. The Yukon hit her as it flipped on its roof, knocking her about 40 feet, Officer Al DeJesus said. She remained at a hospital Monday evening. Police expect her to survive. The Honda occupants — including the children, who were properly belted into car seats — were not seriously hurt, DeJesus said.

Samayoa was hospitalized with injuries that included a crushed hand: "Apparently, the driver's left arm was protruding from the driver's side window when the vehicle rolled," DeJesus said.

Police have no evidence that alcohol played a role, though an unopened six-pack of beer flew from the SUV and scattered in the street. Passers-by collected the beer before authorities could.

The crash illustrates a problem Richmond police hope to curtail with a regular program of checkpoints: unlicensed and uninsured drivers causing crashes. Police opine, backing their arguments with anecdotes and their observations, that more such drivers clutter local streets than ever before and contribute to a growing number of hit-and-run crashes.

Latino political advocates, meanwhile, contend that state motor-vehicle law discriminates against undocumented immigrants, who cannot obtain driver's licenses. By aggressively enforcing licensing laws with checkpoints, local police further a racist policy and also unfairly target Latinos for traffic stops, they say.

"The bottom line is that there are better uses for our police force than to conduct these checkpoints," Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said. "There is all kinds of serious crime happening out there, and I don't see the purpose of devoting extra resources to driver's license checkpoints when there is so much need elsewhere."

Those points of view met in the street Monday evening, at a police checkpoint planned weeks ago for the corner of Barrett and Gerrard avenues. The Richmond Human Rights Commission, coincidentally, chose the date to observe officers at the checkpoint as part of its regular meeting, part of an investigation of the profiling allegations.

Growing numbers of anti-checkpoint demonstrators wave placards each month in front of Richmond's monthly checkpoints, using Spanish-language signs to warn away motorists. The proximity of the November election also brings out City Council candidates, mostly on the pro-checkpoint side.

"I have lost my temper ... with these people accusing the police of racial profiling," said police Commissioner Chris Tallerico, a City Council candidate. "This is a sanctuary city, and that needs to be stopped. If I am elected, I will introduce legislation that will end Richmond's status as a sanctuary city."

Police deny targeting any group, pointing out that they hold checkpoints all over the city, not just Latino neighborhoods. The City Council also specifically asked the department to continue its checkpoints in the winter.

That may change, however. McLaughlin last month asked the department for data from the past two years' worth of checkpoints, including numbers of citations and vehicles towed, and the surnames of all those cited; the department does not track ethnicity at the checkpoints.

"I haven't gotten any information back. I have sent two reminder e-mails to the chief," McLaughlin said. "I am very concerned about this issue."

Staff writer Robert Salonga contributed to this article. Reach Karl Fischer at 510-262-2728 or kfischer@bayareanewsgroup.com.