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Day laborer laws aren't working

Constitutionality questioned; sheriff won't cite workers

By Lisa Faught
Pasadena Star News Staff Writer
August 9, 2001

The days may be numbered for laws prohibiting day laborers from soliciting work on street corners.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca recently issued a letter warning cities to make sure regulations that bar day laborers from looking for work are constitutional.

In the meantime, the Sheriff's Department will not cite day laborers for waving down potential employers on city streets, including those of Rosemead, Temple City, Duarte and Industry. "It's a human situation that people have to go through to make money," said Pablo Alvarado, a day laborer advocate for Coalition for Humane Immigrants' Rights of Los Angeles. "Why should we criminalize a human act?"

The letter, issued July 16, responds to a recent federal court decision that found the county was violating the rights of day laborers by forbidding them to express their need for a job.

The decision stems from a lawsuit filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, based in Los Angeles.

The lawsuit covered only unincorporated segments of the county, but MALDEF has convinced Baca to suspend enforcement of day-laborer laws everywhere deputies patrol, said Thomas Saenz, attorney for MALDEF.

Sheriff's deputies now have fewer ways to deal with day laborers who congregate on city streets.

In Rosemead, which is patrolled by Temple sheriff's Station, laborers flock to the corner of San Gabriel Boulevard and Garvey Avenue every day seeking work. At times, residents complain about noise and traffic created by the group.

"Our hands are tied now," said Donald Wagner, assistant city manager. "If we find them soliciting work, there's nothing we can do about it."

The suspension extends to Duarte and Temple City, also covered by the Temple sheriff's Station, but day laborers rarely congregate in either city.

For now, the suspension applies only to areas monitored by sheriff's stations, not to cities covered by their own police departments.

But following the ruling, MALDEF asked cities to repeal their day laborer laws because the county's was found unconstitutional.

Because many cities modeled their day laborer regulations on the county's, MALDEF predicts a ripple of repeals across the county, Saenz said.

"Our intent all along was to establish a precedent that could be used to strike down other ordinances," Saenz said. "It would be up to the cities whether they want to continue to uphold an ordinance that appears to be unconstitutional. Those would be the cities we would be looking to challenge."

An estimated 20,000 to 25,000 day laborers look for work at up to 150 street corners daily throughout the county, Alvarado said.

Some cities, such as Pasadena and Los Angeles, operate job centers for day laborers.