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Los Angeles

Maywood Traffic Stops Are Protested

August 13, 2003|Jose Cardenas | Times Staff Writer

Dozens of Maywood residents packed City Hall on Tuesday to demand that the Police Department eliminate traffic checkpoints that critics said primarily have caught illegal immigrants who can't legally obtain driver's licenses.

The demands came although the Police Department had modified its policy last weekend to address some of the complaints.

"We applaud the decision they made," said Felipe Aguirre, legal coordinator of Comite Pro Uno, a community organization. "But we want to get to the bottom of this issue."

Police had been setting up traffic stops twice a month at 6 p.m. at four of Maywood's busiest intersections.

The stops targeted unsafe, intoxicated, unlicensed and uninsured drivers.

Community activists complained that the checkpoint caught many immigrants coming home from work, and that the city and tow-truck operator were profiting from the fines and impound fees.

The activists also used the issue to promote AB 60. The bill, by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), would allow illegal immigrants who are in the process of acquiring permanent residency or citizenship to obtain driver's licenses.

Samuel Pena, Maywood's mayor pro tem, said the traffic stops had been made to target unsafe drivers, not illegal immigrants.

When the hardships on immigrants were cited, "the city of Maywood decided to take a step back," he said.

After discussion by Cedillo, Assemblyman Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) and Maywood City Council members, the Police Department over the weekend made several policy changes.

Among them: The checkpoints are at 10 p.m., when most workers are home. Also, police issue warnings to first offenders only and allow them to call licensed drivers to pick up the cars.

"We want to move away from enforcement to education of these unlicensed drivers," Pena said.

But protesters said the changes were not sufficient.

They demanded a suspension of the checkpoints, the return of impounded vehicles to their owners and compensation to people whose vehicles have been sold at auctions because they weren't claimed.

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