ACLU alleges CHP targeting farmworkers
CARUTHERS, Dec 06, 2012 (The Fresno Bee - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
California Highway Patrol Chief Jim Abrames promised to look into charges by the American Civil Liberties Union that officers in the Caruthers area are targeting farmworkers unfairly by impounding their cars.
Abrames, the commander of the CHP's Central Division, appeared at a Wednesday morning meeting called by the ACLU and the American Friends Service Committee where several residents as well as representatives of the two organizations charged that the CHP was "systematically targeting" farmworkers on their way to and from work.
Meeting organizers said the 30-day impounding policy results in workers losing their vehicles because they can't afford to pay $1,000 or more to get them out of tow yards.
Abrames said the CHP has "an obligation to everybody else to see that an unlicensed driver doesn't go down the road."
Myrna Martinez Nateras, of the American Friends committee, said community members have been documenting cases where citizens have had cars impounded after they have been stopped without proper cause. She said reasons for the stops provided by officers included not having a visible license plate and driving too close to the fog line. Martinez Nateras charged that the primary motivation was to tow the vehicle. She said farmworkers need cars to get to and from work as well as to take children to school.
"We want to let everyone know this practice is devastating to the community," she said.
Martinez Nateras and Julia Harumi Mass, of the Northern California ACLU, called on the CHP to suspend the 30-day suspensions for drivers who have done nothing wrong except lack a driver's license.
Modesta de Jesus Ramirez told the meeting that she lost her car after an officer followed her for a long distance to her home and said the reason she was stopped was because she had on high beams. She said her car was towed and that her husband recently lost his vehicle as well when it was impounded and he could not come up with $1,300 to get it back.
Martin Contreras cited a case where he said a young father was pulled over for obstructing traffic, even though there were no other cars on the road. He said the man, his wife and a young child were left on the side of the road in 100-degree weather when the tow truck drove off.
Asked Mass, of the ACLU: "Why is the CHP spending so much time patrolling this sleepy little town "
Abrames said farmworkers make up a "significant number" of those killed in traffic collisions and it was a good thing that his officers patrol rural areas. He also cited CHP's outreach programs to the Hispanic community, including the "El Protector" program as well as efforts to eliminate unsafe vans carrying laborers to and from farms and ranches.
He said he would review the information he received from meeting organizers and that it would probably be 60 to 90 days before an examination of them as well as a review of the stops as reported by officers would be completed.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6339, firstname.lastname@example.org or @jimguy27 on Twitter.
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