Denver groups seek to bury illegal immigrant impound initiative

DENVER — A phone bank jammed with more than 30 volunteers was ringing phones off the hook earlier this week, asking residents to vote no on “impound” Initiative 300.

Impounded! (eggman: CC Flickr)
Impounded! (eggman: CC Flickr)

“This would force police to do something that will cost us roughly $6 million to implement — and they already have the ability to use their discretion and impound cars in a circumstance when someone does not have a valid driver’s license,” said Carolyn Siegel from Coloradans for Safe Communities, a coalition of labor, advocacy and religious groups.

Initiative 300 was brought by Daniel Hayes. The laws it would create require police officers to seize the vehicles of anyone driving without a valid license. But, as investigations have made clear, the initiatives aren’t primarily concerned with traffic safety; they are meant to bolster anti-immigration policy, using traffic laws to find undocumented immigrants and to bring legal action against them.

Law enforcement and city authorities have opposed the initiatives as misguided. Officers on the ground require discretion, they say, but the new laws would unnecessarily tie up officers on the road, turning them into proxy immigration agents, and drain municipal resources.

The phone bank is being run out of the Denver Area Labor Federations offices as part of an eight-day effort. Volunteers included members of labor unions, the American Civil Liberties Union, citizen activist groups, senior citizens, and faith-based groups.

“We just need to make people to understand how bad this initiative is. Any grandma driving down the street could find herself with her car impounded just because she’s forgetful,” construction worker Tom Rutherford told The Colorado Independent.

Vote No on impound Initiative 300, Denver (Joseph Boven: TCI)
Vote No on impound Initiative 300, Denver (Joseph Boven: TCI)

Last year Denver voters passed Initiative 100, an early version of the impound initiative. That version, however, left the decision to impound vehicles up to officers and the law has been largely ignored.

The new version mandates impounding for all persons driving either without a license or convincing corroborating identification, such as ID and proof of insurance. Drivers without licenses who produce other reliable information would be issued citations and required to provide the license within 10 days. If 10 days pass, the city would be expected to track down the individual and impound the car. The initiative also calls for police to impound a vehicle when they believe an individual “is an illegal alien or may be reasonably suspected of being such.”

Sara Kuntzler, political director of the Denver Area Labor Federation, who coordinated the phone banks, explained that the Labor Federation entered the CSC because the issue was one important to working families whom the Labor Federation represents.

“We really feel that this is a working-families issue that needs to be addressed,” Kuntzler said.

Kuntzler said that the legislation is poorly written, provides vague explanations of what constitutes identification, and wastes the time of police officers “who need to be doing their job instead of spending their time waiting for tow trucks.”

She says working class families would be disproportionately burdened by a penalty that does not fit the crime.

The phone bank on Wednesday was scheduled to hit 20,000 homes, Kuntzler said. She said the data they were collecting was better than they hoped. The numbers she said suggested that after a phone call from one of the volunteers 7 out of 10 individuals said that they would not vote for the initiative.

“Most people don’t know about it, but once we tell them what it does, most say no.”

Edit note: The original version of this story reported that the impound initiative would appear on the ballot in Aurora. It will not. Signatures for the initiative were tossed out by a Judge there, who ruled that petitions in Aurora violated the law by not printing the full text of the initiative for signatories to read.

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