Day Laborers in California Sue for Right to Solicit Work

Day laborers in Costa Mesa, California have filed a lawsuit against the city after police dressed in plain clothes posed as employers and subsequently arrested dozens of workers attempting to solicit jobs. Costa Mesa, a small city about 35 miles outside of Los Angeles, passed an ordinance outlawing work solicitation in 2005. They also managed to shut down a labor center that served as a popular gathering spot for day laborers looking for work and have since stepped up enforcement of the ordinance as well as of their immigration laws with the help of federal agents.

Mayor Allan Mansoor said that the city began to step up its enforcement of the laws after many residents complained about noise and people loitering. After the workers were detained, most were found to be in the country ilegally Mansoor told the LA Times. "I believe people have the right to express their free speech, but we also have to maintain order in the community," Mansoor said. "There are options for people to solicit work. I encourage people to do that through a legal means."

But Belinda Escobosa Helzer, a staff lawyer for the Southern California ACLU said that day laborers should enjoy the same constitutional freedoms any other person walking down the street does. "Our core constitutional principles of equality and freedom demand that a day laborer enjoy the same right to free expression as a political activist or a member of a charitable group," she told reporters.

Escobosa Helzer said that this is the eighth lawsuit filed in California by the ACLU and Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund against ordinances that restrict laborers from gathering and soliciting work and that all the previous suits have been won by the workers.