For Immediate Release
NYCLU, ACLU And LatinoJustice PRLDEF Challenge Unconstitutional Anti-Immigrant Ordinance On Behalf Of Day Laborer Groups
Oyster Bay, NY Law Restricts Free Speech Rights Of Day Laborers
NEW YORK - The
New York Civil Liberties Union, American Civil Liberties Union and
LatinoJustice PRLDEF filed a lawsuit today on behalf of two day laborer
groups challenging an Oyster Bay town ordinance that violates the core
rights of free speech and equal protection under the law and is
intended to drive Latino immigrants from the community.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Centro de la Comunidad Hispana de
Locust Valley and the Workplace Project, challenges an ordinance
enacted in September 2009 that prohibits standing on the sidewalk to
solicit employment and bars motorists from stopping to solicit
employment or hire workers. The Oyster Bay law, enacted in September
2009 purportedly to address traffic and pedestrian safety, criminalizes
a wide variety of constitutionally protected speech that presents no
threat to traffic safety, including, for example, students soliciting
cars for a high school carwash fundraiser.
"This misguided ordinance uses
public safety as a smokescreen for intolerance and violates the
constitutional rights of day labors and all Oyster Bay residents," said
Samantha Fredrickson, director of the NYCLU's Nassau County Chapter.
"It is a symptom of the anti-immigrant hostility that has swept across
Long Island and the country in recent years."
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District
Court for the Eastern District of New York against the town of Oyster
Bay and Town Supervisor John Venditto, maintains that the ordinance
violates the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
"The true purpose of this ordinance
is to prevent a group of predominantly Latino day laborers from making
a living in Oyster Bay," said Cesar Perales, president and general
counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF. "Day laborers are hardworking people
and provide a valuable service to this community that we are all part
of; their kids go to school here and they work, spend money and go to
church. But as a result of this law, many of them have lost the ability
to earn a living wage."
"Local attempts to regulate
immigration by passing ordinances that restrict free speech are
unconstitutional, ineffective and only drain state and local budgets
while hurting workers and local businesses," said Farrin Anello, an
attorney with the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. "Standing on the
sidewalk to let people know that you are available for work is not a
crime. The Constitution protects all people in this country, regardless
of their background."
For nearly two decades, day laborers
have gathered in Oyster Bay, particularly the Hamlet of Locust Valley
and the Village of Farmingdale, to find work. Since passing the
ordinance, the town has stationed law enforcement officers at a corner
at which workers and contractors typically meet, keeping contractors
away from the site and intimidating workers seeking employment. The
ordinance has had a devastating effect on the workers, who typically
depend on these jobs to feed themselves and their families and
frequently lack transportation to seek work elsewhere.
"Oyster Bay's ordinance is hurting
families and it's hurting children," said Luz Torres of the Centro de
la Comunidad Hispana de Locust Valley. "These people have to work so
that they can feed, clothe and house their children, and they have the
right to talk to anyone they want."
In recent years, Latino day laborers
in Oyster Bay have endured harassment and intimidation from neighbors,
government officials and law enforcement when they gather to seek work.
In a 2006 survey by Hofstra University's Center for the Study of Labor
and Democracy, more than 43 percent of day laborers on Long Island
reported being targeted for slurs based on their nationality while more
than a quarter reported having been threatened while seeking work. When
residents of Farmingdale attempted to establish a hiring site for day
laborers, news reports indicated that someone had left a .50-caliber
anti-aircraft shell and carved the depiction of a gun in a picnic table
at the proposed location.
At the same time, Latino immigrants
across Long Island have increasingly faced discrimination, harassment
and violence. In November 2008, Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero was
stabbed to death on Long Island following an altercation with local
teens who were specifically trolling for a Latino victim. In 2003, the
house of an immigrant in Farmingville was firebombed. Three years
earlier in the same town, two Mexican day laborers were brutally beaten
after being lured out of their home by the promise of work.
"Oyster Bay's discriminatory law is
promoting anger and distrust toward Latinos and contributing to an
environment where we feel like constant targets of harassment," said
Nadia Marin-Molina of the Workplace Project. "The town should do
everything in its power to ease tensions, not be fanning the flames of
hate by passing unconstitutional laws."
At a March 2009 Oyster Bay Town
Board meeting, several Oyster Bay residents complained of the "invasion
of day laborers," calling the workers "unsafe and unsightly." Following
the meeting, the Town Board introduced the ordinance. At a May 2009
public hearing on the proposed ordinance, several residents and local
lawmakers expressed displeasure with federal immigration policy. The
board approved the ordinance unanimously.
Local lawmakers and police officials
have never explained why current road safety laws – such as New York
State's vehicle and traffic laws – are inadequate to protect motorists
or pedestrians. At the public hearing, no resident or Oyster Bay Town
Board member indicated that a single traffic accident had occurred as a
result of a day laborer soliciting work. The legislative record on the
ordinance contains no evidence that the presence of day laborers causes
Lawyers on the case, Centro de la Comunidad Hispana de Locust Valley et al. v. Town of Oyster Bay et al.,
are Corey Stoughton, Adriana Piñón and Arthur Eisenberg for the NYCLU;
Alan Levine and Christina Iturralde for PRLDEF; and Anello and Lee
Gelernt for the ACLU.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.