logoFor an even more in-depth look at what we do, we offer a case study of our partnership with a PICO California affiliate. This is the story of how Inland Congregations United for Change won an unlikely victory for immigrant families in a conservative community.

As community organizers met with members of the St. Louis Catholic Church in Southern California’s Inland Empire, one problem kept coming up. Immigrant drivers were being pulled over for minor infractions like missing taillights, but when police discovered they were driving without a valid license, their cars would be impounded.

Unlicensed driving is an issue for many in the congregation because since 1994, the state of California will not issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Yet families still need transportation to work, school and church, and their area has limited public transportation. As a result, many people drove out of necessity, and if they got pulled over, they lost their cars for 30 days. In addition to losing their transportation, they had to pay as much as $2,500—more than 15% of their average annual wages—to get their cars back.

Inland Congregations United for Change research showed that the local police chief and city manager had discretion in how they enforced this law. The law says they can impound cars for up to 30 days, but it doesn’t require it. Inland Congregations United for Change saw an opportunity to change the way the police treated these struggling families. But sympathy for undocumented immigrant is hard to come by under the best of circumstances, and trying to make change in this conservative community in the midst of an economic crisis was hardly easy.

Strategic Approach

Inland Congregations United for Change organizers recognized that they had a winnable issue with a message problem, and reached out for help. LightBox Collaborators worked with Inland Congregations United for Change to develop a solution for their targeted audience. Our new message spoke to the need to both enforce the law and protect families. Rather than asking them to just stop the impounds, the new message offered an enforcement policy that gave officers more discretion and allowed them to consider the security of the families affected by the arrests and impounds. Their message:

  •    We all agree that the law should be enforced and consequences should be fair.
  •    At its best, law enforcement looks out for families and the best interests of the whole community.
  •    So please adopt the cascading impound policy.
  •    Because this approach upholds the letter of the law, as well as the true spirit of our community.

After unveiling their research and their new policy solution, the members of St. Louis Church and their allies invited the Chief of Police and the City Planner to a meeting at their church. They packed the pews and offered a new solution to city officials. City leaders readily adopted the new cascading enforcement policy LightBox Collaborative developed with Inland Congregations United for Change.

As a result of these efforts, Cathedral City police no longer immediately impound the cars of drivers without valid licenses. Under no circumstance do police leave women, children or the elderly on the side of the road, as was the practice before this policy was adopted. Officers now give drivers an opportunity to find a licensed driver to pick up the car. If the vehicle is impounded, it is no longer kept for the full 30 days but only until an appropriately licensed driver can pick it up.

Inland Congregations United for Change estimates that since it was implemented this change in policy helped save low-income families upwards of $2.1 million in towing and storage fees—money that can now be spent in the community on rent, food, and other necessities.

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Photo courtesy of ICUC.

Amanda Cooper is a LightBox collaborator who invites you take a look at our services list for ways we can help you advance your cause.