Residents of Caruthers are calling for an investigation into whether CHP officers are targeting farm workers. A lawyer from the ACLU, along with American Friends Service Committee, spoke out Wednesday at a Caruthers church. They say a large number of Latinos are being pulled over for almost no reason. When it's revealed they don't have a driver's license, their vehicles are impounded for 30 days.
While driving home from work last month, Caruthers resident Modesta De Jesus says a CHP officer followed and eventually stopped her in front of her house. She tells what happened through a translator.
"They were going to take my vehicle because I had been zig zagging on the road and because my son was not properly restrained and I had not been doing either of these two infractions," said De Jesus, who works in a packing house.
Her car is currently in impound. The mother of three admits she does not have a driver's license, but she and many others in Caruthers feel they're being unfairly targeted. Dozens of residents gather Wednesday to call on the CHP to investigate its own practices.
"There appears to be an effort to stop people, possibly based on their ethnicity, to target people who are undocumented," said Julia Harumi Mass, a staff lawyer with the ACLU.
Mass has been documenting cases in Caruthers for about three months. They've dug up about 30 similar incidents.
"You can only make a traffic stop if there's reasonable suspicion of a traffic infraction or criminality. The stops we're seeing are happening with very little reasoning or a very silly reason," said Mass.
CHP Chief Jim Abrames listens to residents' concerns and says he'll look into the matter. He wants to make sure officers are acting professionally. The safety of all drivers is the agency's first priority, and he explains why it's important to get unlicensed drivers off the road.
"It always seems like 25% of our traffic collisions involve a hit and run driver and when you follow the trail of the hit and run driver, they're unlicensed and uninsured and that's why they don't stay. And that impacts everybody in California," said Abrames.
The cost of getting a vehicle out of 30-day impound is around $1,300. Many people cannot afford the expense, so they do not get their cars back.