A couple hundred day laborers marched through Redondo Beach on Wednesday morning to protest the Police Department’s recent crackdown on workers soliciting jobs along city roadways.
After trekking along 190th Street and Pacific Coast Highway, the workers and their advocates gathered for a rally in front of City Hall, where they served Redondo Beach with a federal lawsuit alleging recent police sweeps violated workers’ civil rights.
In the suit filed Tuesday, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and National Day Laborer Organizing Network contend a provision in the city’s Municipal Code banning solicitation of work from streets and sidewalks deprives laborers of their free speech rights.
Chanting “Trabajo si, policia no”—“Work yes, police no”—laborers lined up in front of city offices before a throng of television cameras.
“Looking for work is not a crime,” Pablo Alvarado of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network yelled to the crowd.
Over the past few months, undercover police have arrested 60 laborers at two well-known gathering spots: the intersections of Manhattan Beach Boulevard and Inglewood Avenue, and Artesia Boulevard and Felton Lane.
The sweeps come in response to a barrage of nuisance calls from nearby business owners, said police Sgt. Phil Keenan. Shop owners have said they’ve seen laborers littering, harassing customers and urinating in public.
City officials said the Municipal Code’s intent is to govern the manner in which laborers solicit work—along a street or highway—and is not intended to stifle free speech rights. City Attorney Jerry Goddard said he’ll fight the suit.
“We’re attempting to enforce the ordinance in a legal and constitutional manner that complies with state law,” Goddard said. “We’re trying to prevent groups of people from soliciting (work) and coming into the roadway for jobs.”
But Thomas Saenz, vice president of litigation for MALDEF, said he disputes the city’s decision to prohibit laborers from soliciting on sidewalks. They’re meant to be places where people can express themselves freely, he said.
“We will not let them continue to do that,” he said. “Day laborers go where there’s a demand for work. When you take away sidewalks, it’s much more difficult.”
The lawsuit contends the city violated workers’ First and 14th amendment rights in the U.S. Constitution, which guarantee the freedoms of speech and assembly and due process.
Redondo Beach police officers did not check the immigration status of any of the detained workers. But Shaheena Ahmad Simons, another MALDEF attorney, emphasized that the First Amendment applies “to all persons within our borders”—even noncitizens.
Furthermore, she argued, the code does not adequately explain the term solicitation.
“I think an argument can be made it doesn’t define ‘solicit’ or ‘attempt to solicit,’ “ Simons said. “It’s not only vague, it’s overly broad.”
Day laborer advocates have been successful in mounting challenges to similar laws in the past. In 2000, a federal judge told a lawyer for Los Angeles County that an ordinance barring day laborers and passing motorists from soliciting each other is vague and may “chill” the right to free speech.
And about two years afterward, the city of Lawndale repealed a similar ordinance.
Most of the men caught in the Redondo Beach sting a few weeks ago were released on $100 bail. Others made court appearances and faced $50 fines, and then were ordered to stay 150 yards away.
The fines may seem minimal, but they’re a hardship on laborers who solicit work each day in order to feed their families, said Braulio Gonzales of Lennox, who was rounded up last month.
Gonzales, 48, of Guatemala said he had to pay more than $300 as a result of the police sting.
When officers coaxed him and some others to a supposed demolition job, Gonzales said, he followed the group in his car. It was towed away, which cost him $185 the first day, plus a late fee when he finally returned to pick it up.
“It’s not fair,” he said. “They lied.”
And it’s the undercover method that upset Oscar Reyes of Hawthorne, a 25-year-old tile setter who searches for work at the corner of Manhattan Beach Boulevard and Inglewood Avenue.
“Right now, I am not going with Anglo-looking persons,” said Reyes, a native of Mexico who came to the United States in 1988.
“There’s another day to make more money, but there’s not another day to erase the humiliation.”
Several years ago Redondo Beach officials began talking about whether to create a job site similar to the Los Angeles Day Laborer Program location in Harbor City. The program administered by the Los Angeles Community Development Department offers a supervised site that matches laborers with employers, offering water and coffee, rest rooms and access to a trailer.
But discussions about creating a site in Redondo on Marine Avenue, near the Metro Green Line station, eventually broke off, City Councilman John Parsons said.
Parsons said he’d consider broaching the subject again, but he was discouraged to hear about the lawsuit.
“Obviously if MALDEF is looking for solutions and would help get these guys out of an area where they really are disturbing the peace,” he said, “I’d rather have them work with us than say ‘We’re going to sue you.’”