Commentary

Connecting the Dots: Checkpoints and ICE Agents Do Not Make for an Enjoyable Evening at the Ballpark

December 17, 2010

Commentary:
By Victor M. Torres

   With all the focus of attention on the ballpark issue in Escondido being on financial matters, little attention has been given to the much larger issue of the environment that exists in this city. Since the passage of the infamous and illegal rental ban ordinance, the city council has been obsessed with making the lives of undocumented people as miserable as possible. And even though some of these policies affect American citizens, they continue with a zeal that makes Escondido a divided and unhealthy place.

   The San Diego Padres could not have picked a more difficult city in which to put a minor league team. While on the surface Escondido has the infrastructure in place for a ballpark, the apparent lack of appreciation of the existing social environment is hard to understand. The Padres should be well aware of the position the city has taken against immigrants and Latinos. Major League Baseball may have to deal with their own situation next season with the All-Star game scheduled to be held in Phoenix.

   Escondido stands alone as a San Diego city taking such an extreme approach to undocumented people. The Police Department’s program of unlawful driver’s license checkpoints during 2007, ’08, and ’09 where thousands of vehicles were stopped and hundreds towed was a de facto anti-immigrant policy.  Knowing full well that undocumented persons were legally prevented from obtaining a license, the Police Chief, without council notification or consent, proceeded to define Escondido as a city targeting immigrants and Latinos. 

   Since ceasing the driver’s license checkpoints, the police have engaged in DUI/DL checkpoints with a vengeance. While most police departments begin their checkpoints at 8 or 9 PM, Escondido starts them at 6 PM on a Friday evening hoping to catch undocumented and/or unlicensed workers returning home. Unlike other police departments, the Escondido DUI/DL checkpoints suspiciously end at 12 midnight, two hours before bars are required to close. The truth is that they are more interested in towing the cars driven by unlicensed drivers than getting intoxicated persons off the road…sending the message that the rental ban ordinance attempted to send:  undocumented persons are not welcome here and we’re going to make their life so miserable that they will move somewhere else. The chief claims the program enhances public safety, yet the data does not support this. There is no conclusive evidence that checkpoints are the reason for any increase or decrease in the number of traffic accidents.

   Now, the Escondido Police has developed a unique relationship with ICE where nothing is in writing and nothing is retrievable in terms of who does what in this relationship. Again, without council discussion or consent, the police department has agreed to have ICE agents accompany officers to the homes of those whom they believe might be undocumented persons to check for papers. And these are not necessarily the “criminal aliens” they publicly state they are looking for. We have had numerous reports of these “visits” to the homes of U.S. citizens, but both they and the undocumented are so terrified that they will not formally complain. 

   The new mayor of Escondido has been publicly insulting Latinos saying things like we are a people that are not “forward looking.” He has said that he will fight poverty and illegal immigration by enforcing city regulations against graffiti, car repairs in the street, and crowded apartment conditions. He’s said that there are too many social service agencies in Escondido. Mayor Abed wants to rid the city of illegal immigrants and poor people (code words for Latinos).

   This is the atmosphere in the city the Padres have chosen to move their minor league team. We don’t have to ask Latinos to stay away. Latinos throughout the North County region know full well that the risks of coming to Escondido make it an easy decision. We are only pointing out the obvious. Why would Latinos risk coming to a ballgame in Escondido where they know they are targeted? Who’s to say that the police won’t have a checkpoint right outside the ballpark after each game? Who’s to say that ICE agents won’t be at the game looking for possible undocumented persons?

Victor M. Torres is spokesperson El Grupo a Hispanic advocacy group in North County.

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