DUI checkpoints are leading to more than just alcohol-related criminal consequences for California drivers. The purpose of sobriety checkpoints seems straightforward: to reduce the number of drunk drivers on California highways and prevent death and injury resulting from driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In at least one area of California, though, state-financed DUI checkpoints also contribute to the removal of hundreds of undocumented immigrants annually.
In Escondido, local police have an exclusive partnership agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, known as “Operation Joint Effort” — the only one of its kind in the U.S. When police discover a suspected illegal immigrant during a DUI checkpoint stop, they can contact ICE, which has an office within the Escondido police station.
Hundreds of Immigrants Removed Annually
According to KPBS.org, these DUI checkpoints, which are funded by California Office of Traffic Safety grants, allow Escondido police and ICE to catch about 10 times more unlicensed drivers — the majority of whom are undocumented immigrants — than drunk drivers. Operation Joint Effort has removed more than 650 illegal immigrants since it started in May 2010, according to the Huffington Post.
Immigrant advocates point to these statistics and argue that ICE and local police officers use checkpoints for deportationof illegal immigrants rather than DUI enforcement. Escondido police responded by telling KPBS.org that they are required to check driver’s licenses at DUI checkpoints as a condition of receiving OTS money. An OTS spokesman, however, said police departments do not get penalized for failing to check licenses.
DUI vs. Driver’s-License-Only Checkpoints
According to North County Times, activists in Escondido have long opposed DUI checkpoints and driver’s license checkpoints, arguing that the checkpoints appear to target primarily Latinos and illegal immigrant drivers. Escondido police conducted driver's license checkpoints until the ACLU threatened to sue the department in 2010, calling those operations illegal. It is now up for debate whether the DUI checkpoints are in effect illegal or unconstitutional.
Individuals who have been stopped at checkpoints and now face potential immigration consequences should contact a knowledgeable and experienced immigration attorney who can aggressively defend their rights and seek to have any charges against them reduced or dismissed.