Proposed Suffolk County Law Unfairly Criminalizes Day Laborers, NYCLU Testifies

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
March 6, 2007 12:00 am

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NEW YORK- The New York Civil Liberties Union today expressed its firm opposition to an anti-immigrant ordinance under consideration by the Suffolk County legislature, arguing in testimony that the bill criminalizes “standing while Latino” by unfairly targeting day laborers seeking work.

“The proposal before the Legislature today will devastate the lives of Suffolk County residents by preventing day laborers from supporting their families and putting food on their tables,” said Udi Ofer, NYCLU Legislative Counsel, in testimony before county lawmakers. “It is an attempt to stifle the economic opportunities available to immigrant and Latino workers.”

The NYCLU testified that the bill would discriminate against day laborers, who are overwhelmingly immigrant and Latino, engaged in constitutionally protected activities. The bill would make it illegal for day laborers to loiter or stand along county roadways while impeding the free passage of pedestrians or cars. It would also outlaw loitering or standing along county roadways for the purpose of soliciting or selling any product or service to a person in a car. The NYCLU said that these regulations would unduly infringe on Suffolk residents’ First Amendment rights to seek work in public spaces.

According to the NYCLU, this proposed legislation is the latest in a series of thinly veiled attempts by the Suffolk County Legislature to create an inhospitable environment for immigrant workers. Local police officials do not have statistics on the number of accidents associated with day laborers soliciting jobs on county roadways. Moreover, lawmakers and police officials have yet to explain why current road safety laws – such as New York State’s Vehicle and Traffic Laws – are inadequate to safeguard roadways. “Road safety is simply a smokescreen for the real motivations behind legislation that is actually intended to target Latino day laborers trying to make a decent living,” the NYCLU said.

“This bill is no innocent public safety measure,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU Executive Director. “Instead, it is a hostile attempt to drive day laborers from roadsides and, indeed, from Suffolk County itself.”

In addition to being anti-immigrant and anti-Latino, Ofer testified, the bill is plainly unconstitutional. The First Amendment protects the right of people to solicit work in public spaces, and the bill infringes on this right by discriminating against day labor speech and preventing day laborers from soliciting work. Similar ordinances have been struck down as unconstitutional by federal courts.

“This bill would further drive the rise of anti-immigrant and anti-Latino sentiments in Suffolk County and the nation,” said Dolores Bilges, Executive Director of the NYCLU’s Suffolk Chapter. “Suffolk County should be welcoming immigrants instead of stirring hysteria with allegations unsupported by evidence.”

The NYCLU’s testimony is available online at:

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