NC DUI Checkpoints Cause Economic Ills as Immigrant Workers Stay Home
By: Chris Kramer
Since their inception, DUI checkpoints have become a widespread and popular method for combating drunk driving by local police and sheriff's departments. Aside from education, it's one of the few tactics for preemptively working to stop DUI accidents before they happen.
But with the effectiveness-often quoted as a 20% reduction in drunk driving arrests in areas where they are implemented-comes a tradeoff in civil rights. After all, being forced to stop with no suspicion of wrongdoing can easily be argued as a violation of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches.
In fact, this concept was directly challenged in a lawsuit in 1990, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the effectiveness in uncovering impaired drivers overcame the concerns of constitutional violations.
However, the court based its decision on the implementation of a specific protocol for each sobriety checkpoint operation in order to ensure that these constitutional rights were secured. Conditions of proper DUI checkpoint protocol include material proof of need in the location such as DUI statistics, stopping cars according to pre-set guidelines such as every third or fourth car, and advance advertisement of the checkpoint in local media.
Historically speaking, one of the reasons why the DUI checkpoint has been challenged is that it has provided officers with the opportunity to pursue investigations outside its intended scope of discovering drunk drivers. If the officer has already stopped you, there's nothing keeping him from running your driver's license or plates for outstanding warrants, or peeking into your trunk for evidence of drugs or stolen goods.
Immigrants in the United States are worried about DUI checkpoints as well, as a report by North Carolina public radio station WHQR reveals. Those who may be in the United States with an expired visa or even without proper documentation at all fear that even if they are sober, being stopped at a DUI checkpoint could lead to identification of their status and deportation.
Thus, instead of chancing a run-in with the law, many immigrant workers choose to stay home on the day of a planned sobriety checkpoint.
Their fears may also be founded on the fact that many local police and sheriff's departments have been vested with federal authority on the question of immigration, meaning that local officers are running immigration status checks with DHS, and local jails are now acting in some cases as deportation detention centers.
This expanded power is not without its drawbacks; as New America Media reports, many smaller departments have over expanded their efforts and budgets in order to pursue immigration enforcement.
According to news reports, North Carolina is experiencing this kind of economic hardship, but not specifically with their law enforcement departments (the widespread DUI checkpoint program was part of the state's normal budget, not an unusual expansion of powers).
While it may have caused some positive effects in netting drunk drivers, the widespread sting has caused some companies to lose businesses, as their temporary and day workers stay home to avoid the checkpoints.
While the program's director, a special assistant to the North Carolina governor, claims that such fears are an overreaction, the reality is that state officials may want to reconsider how the program is being executed, addressing any unforeseen consequences such as the loss of immigrant labor.
It also underscores the state and country's dependence on immigrants for labor, and how devastating the consequences could be if this trend was seen on a larger scale.