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Denver to vote on impounding immigrants' cars

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robinglis | Jul 31, 2008 11:35 AM

The text of Denver Initiative 100, which goes before voters on August 12, uses the phrase “illegal alien” four times. Still, supporters insist it has nothing to do with immigration.

The initiative would require Denver police to impound the car of anyone caught driving without a license, unless they believe the driver simply left his license at home. Drivers would get their cars back only after presenting a valid license or posting a $2,500 bond. Those unable to come up with the $2,500 within thirty days would have their cars sold.

Denver’s mayor, city council, and one of its two police unions have called the proposed impoundment policy a waste of police time. And a group of religious leaders recently denounced the initiative as an attempt to make life even more difficult for illegal immigrants, who cannot get licenses in Colorado and might not have the money to spring their cars from detention.

The leaders of Future Denver, a group formed to support the initiative, say they’re motivated not by anti-immigrant sentiments but by public-safety concerns about unlicensed -- and therefore uninsured -- drivers. All of which would be a tad more believable if they had thought to scrub the words "illegal alien" from the text of the initiative. Or if they weren’t connected to some of the very groups – the Minutemen and the FIRE Coalition – that helped shoot down New York state’s attempt to enact the most common-sense solution to the problem of unlicensed immigrant drivers: giving them licenses.

Now, law-and-order rhetoric has a long history of serving as a cover for racially-targeted law enforcement. But the racial intent used to be a bit more veiled, the logic a bit more internally consistent. If you were a white suburbanite in the 1970s convinced that drugs were the scourge of the nation, maybe it made sense to vote for politicians who promised harsher sentencing. And at least the Rockefeller drug laws didn’t contain four separate mentions of “young black men.”

It’s hard to see how keeping immigrant drivers unlicensed and uninsured -- and then making police impound their cars when, of course, they drive anyway -- helps make our society more law-abiding or orderly. But that’s because law and order are hardly the point.

“They don’t belong here,” says Dan Hayes, treasurer of Future Denver, when asked what he thinks about illegal immigrants. “These people have way too many children. They’re uneducated. You can say that’s racist if you want.”

Since he’s offering, I think I will.

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