Sebastopol's police department is now recognizing Mexican consular ID cards as valid identification, a move that could keep some illegal immigrants from landing in jail, where they would most likely be flagged by federal immigration officials.
Police officers in California have the authority to arrest drivers who cannot provide valid identification, and Sebastopol officials have strictly enforced that law, Police Chief Jeffrey Weaver said.
The city's new policy of accepting a consular ID card (known in Spanish as a matricula consular) will affect a "very small group of people," Weaver said. It would benefit primarily those drivers who are pulled over, do not have a driver's license and face no other legal issues.
The change is "really one specific offense — that's driving without a driving license," Weaver said Friday.
Sebastopol made the change in response to community members who were concerned that arrests were being made for offenses that typically would result in a citation, he said.
On a first offense of driving without a license, law enforcement officers in Sebastopol have three options — issue a citation and allow the driver to find a licensed driver to remove the vehicle; tow the car, but not require a 30-day impound; or lock the car, put it in a safe place and order the driver not to drive.
Weaver made it clear that anyone caught committing a "bookable offense" would be arrested and jailed regardless of identification.
What's more, he said the policy will not prevent vehicles from being towed and impounded for 30 days on a second offense of driving without a license.
"That's a different issue," he said.
Sonoma County immigrant rights advocates applauded the policy change.