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Border & Immigration

Escondido Police Checkpoints Controversy

Escondido Police Checkpoints Controversy
New deportation arrests refuel the controversy about the teaming of city cops and immigration and customs enforcement agents in Escondido. We'll hear the latest from KPBS Reporter Ruxandra Guidi.

The pilot program in Escondido that teams city police with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents netted two illegal immigrants for deportation over the weekend. The two men taken into custody had prior criminal convictions.

This joint program, along with Escondido's drivers' license checkpoints have been controversial because critics claim they create a climate of fear among the city's growing Latino population.



KPBS Border Reporter Ruxandra Guidi

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The pilot program in Escondido that teams city police with federal immigration and customs enforcement agents netted two illegal immigrants for deportation over the weekend. The two men taken into custody had prior criminal convictions. This joint program along with Escondido's driver's license checkpoints have been controversial because critics claim they create a climate of fear among the city's growing Latino population. KPBS border reporter Ruxandra Guidi talked with people in Escondido for a recent report. And she's here with us today. Welcome, Ruxandra Guidi.

RUXANDRA GUIDI: Good morning. Thank you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have two issues here. Escondido's pilot program with federal immigrations and customs enforcement agents, and the city's driver's license checkpoints of let's start with the check points. Why did the Escondido police start this program?

RUXANDRA GUIDI: You know, the program was started in 2004, and it's actually two different kinds of checkpoints of there are the driver's license checkpoints, and DUI check point. And so we all know DUI checkpoints. If you're caught driving drunk, then you get arrested, you get a citation, but the driver's license checkpoints are meant to catch people that are driving without a license. And in the case of Escondido and many other communities that have large immigrant populations, especially undocumented immigrant populations, they're catching a lot of immigrants that are undocumented that by law, should not be driving. They can't have a license. And so these were instituted in 2004, and they have been collaborating with ICE on and off, but the class action with ICE and the checkpoints are not necessarily related. It's just that those two things are basically enabling the Escondido police department to catch more undocumented immigrants.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, in the mid 2000s, Escondido tried to establish a law where landlords could not rent to undocumented immigrants, and that law was ultimately struck down. Lots of people thought these driver's license checkpoints were a sort of response to the idea that the landlords idea was struck down. Do people still feel that way.

RUXANDRA GUIDI: They do, the ordinance you're talking about, they tried to pass it in 2006, but it was struck down in the Courts. And that basically meant that as a landlord, you would get fined and you wouldn't be allowed to represent to people that didn't have papers, that were undocumented. So since then, and clearly since before then, 2004, there have been a lot of measures that the immigrant community in Escondido have felt are targeting them, specifically Latinos, although there are ail of middle eastern immigrants living in Escondido as well. Iraqis, and they say, according to the folks I talk to, they say they feel targeted as well.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Why do city officials in Escondido feel they need these checkpoints.

RUXANDRA GUIDI: I spoke to the chief of police, and he told me that they actually have found that a large group of folks, I can't think of the number right now, have been caught driving without a driver's license, without -- you know, under the influence of alcohol. And his numbers reflect the reality of a lot of other communities in California. It's just that in Escondido, the police department have wanted to address this issue. Now another thing that's worth bringing up here is that Escondido police department around 2004 was finding that a lot of people that have already been deported from Escondido were coming back, and were found back on the streets. So if you are deported and you return to the U.S., that is illegal in and of itself. So that's reason to be redeported, if that makes and sense. And the Escondido police department wanted to address this issue of continually receiving back deportees, and they felt like one easy way to find these people was to create the check points. But it's a very controversial measure for sure.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I believe that you have a clip from Escondido city officials talking about this.

RUXANDRA GUIDI: I spoke with police chief Jim Maher, and here's what he said.

NEW SPEAKER: The checkpoints have been in existence for so long that we have literally thousands of illegal immigrants who have been through our checkpoints, either as driver or passenger, and they know they've been treated the same as everybody else. They don't like it. They get their car towed. But then they get released, you know? Just like we do with members of other races or ethnicities and citizens and noncitizens. Is it doesn't matter. We're here doing those checkpoints to improve traffic safety.

RUXANDRA GUIDI: So one thing I found is this not only the immigrant community in Escondido but the wider community as well is upset by these check points. You have -- Escondido's a pretty divided city as I see it right now. There's Latinos are about 46 percent of the population, majority population Latino, and you have had these measures that are addressing this demographic am change. So city council feels they need to do something about illegal immigration, then you have a majority Latino population that is continually voicing their discontent over these measures. So I think whether they're necessary or not, and whether they're really netting the amount of criminals that they say they are netting is another issue. But they're definitely dividing the community.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with KPBS border reporter Ruxandra Guidi, and we're talking about the situation in Escondido, driver's license checkpoints and a pilot program that teams city police with federal immigration and customs enforcement agents. Let's move on to that particular pilot program. It, as I say, this weekend, two people were taken into custody for possible deportation. The officials say the two men had prior criminal convictions am tell us about that.

RUXANDRA GUIDI: Sure, I'll start by telling you a lot wit about this partnership with ICE. The truth is a lot of local police departments have been collaborating with ICE for years. This is not new. What's new about this partnership is that it basically houses, well, in the case of Escondido, ICE officers within the Escondido police department. So whereas they would typically be found in the local jail, now, they are right there in the police department. So the Escondido police department was approached by ICE to basically make this collaboration more official. So what happens is for example in the gang task force, they will go out at night and try to find illegal activity or try to, like, come down on gang crime. And they can quickly turn over all this information to ICE right within the police department. The pilot program was established five months ago. And they've -- I spoke to an ICE official about this yesterday. They have deported a hundred and 80 people in the last five months. All of them supposedly with criminal convictions. But what's happening in Escondido as well is that according to the folks I spoke to, a number of undocumented immigrants who have no criminal convictions are also being deported as well as part of these collaborations. So this pilot program is seen as a successful program both from ICE and from the local police department. And increasingly, the community is feeling alienated.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And what are the criteria for when the local -- the Escondido city police actually call in the members, these federal agents to -- in a particular stop? Does -- what is the criteria that they need before they call in these ICE agents?

RUXANDRA GUIDI: Just for starters, let me say that there's no MOU between ICE and the Escondido police department. I asked the ICE official about this yesterday, and he said it's a pilot program, we have yet to figure it out. So we don't have any specific protocols. So that could be problematic. Now, what ICE says is they're enforcing federal laws, Escondido police department is enforcing local laws. So what's happening in Escondido police department can look for, say, a driver without a license. That in itself is a violation. And if he's found to be here with an expired visa or without proper papers, that's reason enough for a deportation under federal law. However, what's complicated in this dynamic is where and how does ICE step in? And as far as I can tell you, it's really difficult to sort out. Because a lot of immigrants that have been stopped by Escondido police department turned over into ICE are not speaking. Many of them are afraid. And we haven't followed any of these cases through the Courts. So we really have no way to know other than by the ACLU or local activists groups are saying in Escondido.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And what does the ACLU say about what's going on in Escondido?

RUXANDRA GUIDI: They feel that it's racial profiling. They feel that Latinos and immigrants are targeted. Now, if you speak to police chief Jim Maher, he says we're stopping everyone at these check points and we're only turning people over to ICE that have criminal convictions.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now I'm wondering, there was I very controversial law that is still going through the Courts in Arizona about stopping people that they suspected of being illegally in the country. I wonder what is the difference between that law and the -- this team up between ICE agents and city police in Escondido?

RUXANDRA GUIDI: I suppose one way to look at it is what's happening in Arizona with SB1070 is that any police in Maricopa County would have the right to stop anyone on the street and ask them for papers. This is not what's happening in Escondido, however, in Escondido, what's happening is you happen to be driving a car, you go through a checkpoint, you have no way to know that checkpoint is there except unless you see a protestor that's holding a sign that says veer the other way, there's a checkpoint ahead. And you get caught, you got stopped, if you don't have I license, then your car will be impounded, and if you have a criminal past, you'll get deported or if you're a former deportee that has returned to the U.S., you'll get deported as well. But it's a really fine line between the two, and we're seeing this increasingly in other parts of the country, local measures to address undocumented immigrant that are working as far as the federal enforcement of immigration and ICE goes but really are not in the purview of local police departments.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You mentioned the protestors in Escondido of I know the protests themselves are controversial.

RUXANDRA GUIDI: That's right. Of the protests have been going on for the last five years. But they really stepped up recently. Basically what folks have been doing, they'll find out the day of a checkpoint. I was just in Escondido last Saturday, and somebody told me, oh, there's gonna be a checkpoint in the next 20 empties. It's gonna be over here. One way they find out, the police department has to put out a press release, but word travels fast. So a lot of people in the Escondido community are texting each other saying there's gonna be a checkpoint here, checkpoint there, and people are starting to organize around these checkpoints, holding signs that say, don't go this way. If you're an is immigrant or you're undocumented, go the other way. So this has really upset the police department because they've -- one way this could be challenged in the Courts, is that people that have no criminal convictions that are former deportees are getting caught in these check points and getting deported. Or undocumented are getting deported, speak up and give their name, that's no real criminal case here. So far the community in Escondido is real intimidated and no one's coming forward.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you so much for speaking to us today.

RUXANDRA GUIDI: Thank you, Maureen, my pleasure.