Originally published at La Opini??n. Republished by permission.
The Los Angeles Police Department's Special Order 7 established a reasonable policy for the impounding of vehicles when unlicensed drivers were behind the wheel. This is a measure the Sheriff's Department should follow for the sake of uniformity of traffic rules throughout Los Angeles county.
In 1994, in the midst of California's anti-immigrant fever, the state legislature allowed, under certain circumstances, vehicles to be confiscated from unlicensed drivers for at least 30 days. That legislation had little to do with road safety, but was rather way to punish the undocumented by impounding their vehicles and requiring them to pay a hefty fine to get them back.
In 2011, a state law replaced the punitive measure with something more reasonable, requiring police at traffic checkpoints to give unlicensed drivers the chance to call someone else to take the car, rather than having it towed. One year later, the LAPD approved Special Order 7, which subsequently received the legal green light from State Attorney General Kamala Harris.
This background should encourage the Los Angeles County Sheriff to follow in the LAPD's footsteps, especially since we know that the LAPD's 39% reduction in impounded vehicles has not led to an increase in accidents. The Sheriff has stated that "his priority isn't to impound vehicles." Leaving this up to the Sheriff's discretion is insufficient.
It is unfortunate that while seeking to expand the example of Special Order 7, some want to return to the past. On Monday in a Los Angeles court, the Los Angeles Police Protection League and Judicial Watch will argue to eliminate the order. The police union claims it is detrimental to road safety, and Judicial Watch considers it a sanctuary policy for the undocumented. Together they sum up the false message that the undocumented are dangerous.
There is actually an easy answer to all this that has been applied in other states: grant drivers licenses based on an individual's skill behind the wheel, regardless of his or her immigration status.