BY RUTH BROWN Californian staff writer email@example.com
When Delia "Dee" Dominguez's close friend had a vehicle impounded and was left stranded on the side of Kern Canyon Road she decided to take action.
Police had taken the car because her friend, an undocumented immigrant, did not have a driver's license.
It was that ordeal that inspired Dominguez to participate in a demonstration held Wednesday outside the offices of the Bakersfield Police Department. The demonstration was part of a statewide effort to create a moratorium on impounding the vehicles of unlicensed, illegal immigrants -- many of whom will be able to apply for licenses when a new law takes effect in nine months.
Dominguez, 63, said as a member of the Hispanic community she has seen an increase in unlicensed immigrants having their vehicles seized. She did not have exact numbers on this alleged increase but believes part of it is due to unnecessarily aggressive racial profiling.
The impounding especially impacts Bakersfield farm workers' ability to do their jobs, she said.
"(Farm workers) enrich our valley and yet they are the poorest," Dominguez, of Bakersfield, said.
Colleen Flynn, a volunteer attorney for the National Lawyers Guild, said the cost of getting a vehicle out of an impound can be expensive. It can cost anywhere from $100 to $300 for release fees and $1,500 to $2,000 for impound fees, which sometimes exceeds the car's worth.
Cynthia Anderson-Barker, of the National Lawyers Guild, said her main concern is the "aggressive tactics" used by California Highway Patrol when impounding people's vehicles.
Anderson-Barker said while driving a vehicle without a license is a crime, the drivers should be allowed to call someone who is licensed to come pick up the car rather than having it immediately impounded.
CHP Officer Robert Rodriguez said it is not uncommon for an unlicensed driver to have a vehicle impounded, sometimes for as long as 30 days. But that doesn't just happen to illegal immigrant drivers, he said.
On Jan. 1, 2015, the Department of Motor Vehicles will begin enforcing the provisions of AB 60, which allows all immigrants to apply for a driver's license.
Dominguez hopes a local moratorium takes effect before then because, attorneys say, drivers are losing cars that take them to work, school and doctors.
Gilbert Saucedo, attorney for the National Lawyers Guild, called the situation "unconstitutional" and a "human crisis."