Juarez authorities promise to impound ‘crooked cars’ … well, just some of them

Border Crime

Officials show sympathy for those who cannot afford onerous import fees, but worry unregistered cars are being used to commit crimes

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Tijuana has its “chocolate” cars, in Juarez they’re just crooked.

Either way, city, state and federal authorities are getting ready to impound cars and trucks illegally imported from the United States because of tax evasion and public safety issues.

“Many crimes — up to 60 to 70% — are committed using vehicles with no license plates or stickers that are neither legal nor issued by any authority,” Chihuahua Gov. Javier Corral said on Tuesday.

He said up to 60,000 of these so-called “autos chuecos” (crooked cars) operate in Juarez.

Some have expired U.S. license plates, some don’t have any plates and some have paper plates or windshield stickers issued by groups claiming to shield the owners from getting their vehicles impounded by police.

Several vehicles in Juarez drive by a highway with no license plates. (photo by Roberto Delgado / Special to Border Report)

Crooked cars have circulated on Mexican border cities for the past 50 years or more. Vehicle owners and some politicians blame high Mexican import fees that make paying bribes or even losing the vehicle cheaper than legally bringing it into Mexico.

“Not everyone drives like this because they want to. They do it out of necessity. […] sometimes the (import fee) is higher than the cost of the car,” said Juarez Mayor Armando Cabada. He said most owners should be given a chance to legalize their vehicles.

According to experts’ websites, permanently importing a North American-made vehicle into Mexico costs 10% of the value of the vehicle plus a slew of taxes. The latter include sales tax (IVA, 8-16%), customs tax (DTA) and first-time registration tax (RePuVe).

Cabada said he would instruct his police officers to go only after “crooked cars” with tinted windows, of a recent make or with no license plates whatsoever. Those are the ones most likely used by organized crime rings to carry out robberies, drug distribution or assassination attempts on rivals, he said.

The mayor said only the federal government can legally seize the unregistered vehicles, but that his officers and the state police can impound them. “We can certainly take them out of circulation,” he said.

Corral said it would be difficult for people to “adapt to legality” but that they must. “We have taken this decision because crooked cars have become an instrument to commit crimes,” he said.

A car in Juarez sports a paper license plate issued by one of several groups claiming to shield them from impoundment. (photo by Roberto Delgado / Special to Border Report)

The governor was asked via WhatsApp but did not answer a question regarding the status of groups that sell their own paper plates and window stickers to the owners of crooked cars. In the past, groups and individuals have been taking car owners’ money under the premise that they have arrangements with the authorities.

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