And Justice For All: Building Relationships for Immigrant Communities

Luz Gallegos, Community Programs Director for TODEC

Luz Gallegos, Community Programs Director for TODEC Legal Center

By Danny Turkel, Digital Coordinator, NCLR

Founded 31 years ago, the Training Occupational Development Educating Communities Legal Center (TODEC) has been an advocate for immigrants’ rights in California’s Inland Empire. The organization was instrumental in advocating and lobbying for the successful passage of AB 60, a 2013 California law authorizing driver licenses for undocumented immigrants. While some decried the law, thousands of people already driving in California were able to take state mandated driving tests and become officially certified to drive in the state. Public safety aside, the law provided more than just a state-issued license. For the first time, many undocumented immigrants were able to take their children to school without fear of tickets, arrest, confiscation of their vehicles, or even deportation.

Luz Gallegos, Community Programs Director for TODEC, described the fight to make sure all Californians can live their lives productively and effectively.

“We just celebrated the one-year anniversary of the passage of AB 60, which is
the California driver license law for undocumented immigrants. There were situations where the police would be outside the schools in the mornings and afternoons, giving tickets, and once they found out a parent didn’t have a driver’s license, they would take their vehicle away,” said Gallegos. “The parents felt that they were being targeted. A high percentage of families living in the area were undocumented.”TODEC logo

The confiscation of the family car had a detrimental impact: children weren’t able to get to school, nor parents to work.

Compounding the issue, the various police departments in Riverside, San Bernardino, and Imperial counties were less than receptive to working with the community to address the driver’s license issue, among others.

“Once AB 60 passed, one of the sheriffs in an area we serve said that his department wouldn’t respect the law, but through building relationships and sitting down and discussing our constituents’ side, he finally agreed that he would uphold the law and allow his officers to do so as well,” said Gallegos.

Relationship-building has been a tool consistently invoked in the fight against police abuse, and while that may seem obvious to an observer, those working on the ground to correct the police violence epidemic see it as the most valuable tactic available. Once both sides of the debate sit down to discuss their views and issues, the debate softens and workable solutions are usually found.

“Relationships are important—not only with the police officers and captains, but also with the sheriffs because they are elected officials and it’s very important for them to see that the community is paying attention to them as well. That brought a lot of accountability.”

Ending abusive policing tactics is a challenge we must undertake as a nation if we wish to live in a peaceful, trusting society. Allowing distrust and violence to become ingrained in our collective lives would undermine the basic tenets of our democracy.

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