In Trump’s America, it is becoming increasingly more important to address policy issues that hinder the success of immigrants. As immigrants are and have always been a major part of America’s culture as well as its economy these hindrances must be addressed if we are to create a country where we can all flourish. In May 2016, Temple University Beasley School of Law students Karen Hoffmann and Katelyn Mays partnered with New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia (NSMP) to release a document “Live Stop: A Law with Unintended Consequences” that notes the injustices allowed and even encouraged by the Philadelphia Police Department’s (PPD) use of the Live Stop policy (Pennsylvania Vehicle Code §6309.2). Since 2002, this law has unfairly enabled the PPD to target undocumented individuals, by towing their cars and costing them an average of $500 to $1000 due to fines and towing expenses, which is essentially due to minor driving infractions. This is devastating for those who fall victim to the Live Stop program and it is crucial to take a stand against this injustice.
Pennsylvania Vehicle Code §6309.2 outlines the police procedure for “Immobilization, towing, and storage of vehicle” for driving without a valid driver’s license and registration. The law originated in 1998, and was later expanded in 2002. While policy-makers initially intended the law to lower car insurance rates and remove unsafe drivers from the road for the good of others and themselves if they were uninsured. This objective has not materialized, and Philadelphia is nationally recognized as having some of the highest insurance rates in the United States. Thus, the law has not had its intended effect, and has even created a significant negative impact on Philadelphians. The root of the problem lies within the specific wording of the code and the PPD’s misinterpretation of it. Pennsylvania Vehicle Code §6309.2 states:
“the law enforcement officer shall immobilize the vehicle or combination or, in the interest of public safety, direct that the vehicle be towed and stored,”
The PPD abuses this law through their misinterpretation of towing “in the interest of public safety,” which more accurately serves as an authorization to tow cars at their own discretion, in turn, targeting undocumented immigrants. Since 2002, almost 500,000 Philadelphians have suffered due to PPD’s abuse of power.
Temple University’s document even shares specific situations in which the police department unfairly towed Philadelphians’ cars. These are their stories:
“Celia was driving her son to school shortly before the holiday break in December 2015 when the police stopped her for a broken light. Even though the car was insured and validly registered in her husband’s name, her car was towed because she was unlicensed. Celia’s sister-in-law, a licensed driver, arrived within five minutes to see if she could drive the car home, however, the police ordered her sister to leave the scene. Celia needs a car to drive her children to school, to take her husband to needed physical therapy appointments, and to transport the clothing she sews for work.”
“Estela, her husband, and her three children – all 10 years old and younger – were stopped by the police at Kensington and Somerset at 6:30 pm. Because it was December, it was very dark outside. The police put the family on the street and the car was towed. The whole family was left on the street in the dark in a neighborhood with a very high crime rate. The family lives several miles from where they were stopped and it is a mile and a half walk from the Frankford Terminal to their home.”
This law is problematic for a variety of reasons. Firstly, although the Live Stop law enables police officers to tow cars “in the interest of public safety,” that is clearly not the case. These families were targeted and victimized by those who are meant to protect them. This can lead to unrest among civilians and the police department in addition to the unsafe situations Estela and her family, for example, are put in. Secondly, it places a significant financial burden and temporarily deters those who are victimized by the PPD from performing their daily tasks of driving to work, doctor’s appointments, school transportation and more. These consequences of minor driving infractions are clearly overly aggressive measures. Another danger of this law lies in the fact that it currently only pertains to the city of Philadelphia. In fact, it is one of few cities in the United States that condones such severe police measures. The danger in this lies within the risk that the law interpretation spreads to other counties, contributing to nationwide police power abuse and the targeting of our nation’s significant immigrant population. The PPD’s maltreatment of undocumented immigrants, even those who have insurance and registration, must be stopped.
Philadelphia legally holds the power to change its use of the state law. However, it is up to the people to encourage policy-makers to initiate the reinterpretation of this law. Organizations such as the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia and POWER, a student-run organization at Villanova, are already working towards this goal. The New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia is “an interfaith, multicultural immigrant justice movement organizing communities to end injustices against immigrants, regardless of status.” They initiated a formal Live Stop program campaign in 2015, after Estela and her family’s account of the program at a local town hall meeting. Since then, the organization has been developing their campaign to stop the injustices. The organization outlines the following goals on their website:
“1. Build a base that centers affected communities. We have done this through canvassing for over 2,300 petition signatures and dozens of testimonies.
2. Develop the leadership of the coordinating committee and all NSM members. We have done this through retreats, trainings, education and one on one support.
3. Engage and educate policy-makers. We have done this through 11 legislative visits out of which 8 produced concrete support from Council members.
4. Build solidarity. We have done this by bringing on POWER as an official partner, hosting the upcoming Convivio, broadening our message to address the root causes of the issues we are fighting, and canvassing across communities” (sanctuaryphiladelphia.org)
As stated in their goals, NSMP also works closely with POWER, a national organization that has a chapter right here on Villanova’s campus. On campus, POWER is currently running a number of social justice campaigns including but not limited to increasing the minimum wage, green energy & jobs, ending cash bail, and discriminatory towing. Each campaign is headed by knowledgeable students about the issues and provides students with an easy gateway to getting involved to fix these issues. POWER encourages students to sign a petition, attend government hearings, and more. The organization also has plans to support those currently in the DACA program, which is quickly coming to an end. Villanova’s POWER chapter holds weekly meetings on Friday’s at 3pm in Corr Hall. It is up to the Philadelphians and us as students at Villanova to support changing this law that has detrimental effects on our broader community. Through engaging with policy makers and demonstrating the gravity of the issue, we can improve our police-civilian relations and city-wide treatment of immigrants.