November 15, 2008

DPS scraps plans for driver's license checkpoints

AUSTIN -- Plans to create driver's license checkpoints on Texas highways have been scrapped in the face of strong lawmaker opposition and suspicions that the proposal targeted illegal immigrants.

Allan Polunsky, chairman of the Texas Department of Public Safety Commission, said Friday he would withdraw a request for an attorney general's opinion on whether the checkpoints would be legal.

DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said the opinion request was sought only for "informational purposes."

"There was never any connection to immigration issues," Vinger said. "DPS does not enforce immigration issues."

Fifteen state lawmakers asked Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to ignore the opinion request made in September. Some suspected the purpose of the checkpoints was to crack down on illegal immigrants.

In August, the public safety commission issued new rules for driver's license applicants to prove they are here legally.

"A state agency is making immigration policy for the state of Texas, and that is not their job," Democratic state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon told the San Antonio Express-News.

During a commission meeting Friday, Polunsky said it was not appropriate to proceed with the proposal at this time. Commission members agreed, but postponed voting on withdrawing the request because the issue wasn't on the agenda.

The state Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in 1994 that checkpoints would have to be approved by a "politically accountable governing body at the state level." The Legislature has not passed bills outlining procedures for checkpoints.

The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund was among those who said the proposed driver's license checkpoints, coupled with the requirement for proving immigration status, could lead to profiling.

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