Tough Bill Advances in Arizona on Illegal Immigrants

Published: March 23, 2010

LOS ANGELES — The Arizona Legislature gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a proposal that would allow the police to arrest illegal immigrants on trespassing charges simply for being in the state.

The provision, see which opponents and proponents call a first in the nation, is part of a wide-ranging bill whose sponsors say they hope will make life tougher for illegal immigrants.

The House bill must be reconciled with a version passed by the Senate, something that may be done within the next week or two. Both include measures to outlaw the hiring of day laborers off the street; prohibit anyone from knowingly transporting an illegal immigrant, even a relative, anywhere in the state; and compel local police to check the status of people they reasonably suspect are in the country illegally.

Immigrant advocates call the bill some of the harshest legislation they have seen in a state where battles over immigration are particularly sharp edged.

Its sponsors said Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican facing a primary competition from conservatives, has indicated her support, though her spokesman said she would not take a position until the final bill reaches her desk.

State Senator Russell Pearce, a Republican and the chief sponsor of the legislation, brushed aside concerns raised by civil libertarians that the law would open the door to racial profiling. The local office of the American Civil Liberties Union says the bill is unconstitutional.

Mr. Pearce said the bill gives the police another tool and compensates for lax enforcement of immigration law by the federal authorities. The police, he said, do not have to arrest every illegal immigrant on trespassing charges, but it gives them that discretion.

“American citizens have a constitutional right to expect their rights and laws to be enforced,” he said in an interview.

Several police chiefs and sheriffs have criticized the bill, calling it burdensome and impractical and a tactic that will scare immigrants out of cooperating with investigations and reporting crime.

Source: New York Times

Immigrants vulnerable to being shortchanged

By N.C. AIZENMAN Washington Post (posted in Houston Chronicle), March 17, medical 2010, 10:27PM

WASHINGTON — On a recent Saturday morning, a group of Latino men wearing paint-spattered jeans and grim expressions strode through a Washington neighborhood in search of the contractor who had cheated them. He’d hired them to remodel a wine in November and December but paid a fraction of what he had promised before disappearing. Now they were hoping the owner could offer clues as to the contractor’s whereabouts.

Luis Colli, 33, a day laborer from Mexico, said he was owed more than $2,000 after more than a month’s work. His wife back in Mexico urged him to “let this go,” Colli said in Spanish, sighing wearily as the group reached the wine . “But I told her: ‘If I let it go, then it means I’ve been intimidated. If I let it go, it means there’s no justice.’ “

Mackenzie Baris, lead organizer with D.C. Jobs With Justice, nodded encouragingly. The morning’s mission was among the first steps in a new effort the nonprofit group has launched to fight what appears to be a growing trend of employers skipping out on wages.

There are signs that the recession has prompted more employers to shortchange their workers, either by failing to pay the promised amount or by offering less than minimum wage in the first place. Construction, restaurant and janitorial workers appear particularly vulnerable, especially if they are immigrants who don’t speak English or lack legal status.

At the District of Columbia’s Office of Wage-Hour, the number of workers seeking help to recover stolen wages rose to 523 last year, an increase of more than 20 percent from 2008.

Jobs With Justice, a national campaign for workers’ rights, and allied groups have responded by training low-skilled workers to help one another gather information needed to mount legal cases. Failing that, they plan to try more creative tactics: picketing recalcitrant contractors in hopes of shaming them or asking larger companies or government entities that employ bad bosses to pressure them to pay up.

“The capacity of volunteers and nonprofit staff to be able to follow through on these cases is going to be limited given how big the problem is,” Baris said. “Having workers themselves be at the front line is the best way to be effective.”

The magnitude of the challenge was evident as soon as she and the workers entered the wine . Colli began a hesitant explanation of the purpose of their visit, which another organizer translated into English. To Colli’s relief, the owner of the wine responded with a sympathetic smile. The contractor had cheated him as well, he said, charging $35,000 above the initial bid before leaving the job unfinished.

“I’m trying to find him, too,” he said. But he had little additional information to offer: a bank account number and the name and phone number of the contractor’s accountant.

“OK. It’s something,” Baris said. “Possibly the police can use this information to find him.”

Organizers at Jobs With Justice have decided to pursue alternative options when possible, inspired by similar efforts by groups in San Francisco and Austin, Texas. Since late fall, they have trained 11 workers from an independent association of day laborers called the Union de Trabajadores to act as the intake staff of a walk-in wage-theft work. At a recent session, the cases included that of Oscar Martinez, 54, of Guatemala. He had been working for a small refuse pickup company for three years when the owner announced that, because of a slowdown in business, he would have to cut Martinez’s pay slightly. Martinez accepted, but shortly afterward, the boss disappeared without paying him for the last two weeks.

“He used to pick me up at this McDonald’s. But he just stopped showing up,” Martinez said in Spanish. “I’ve been calling him and calling him, but he never answers.”

Costa Mesa stops enforcement of anti-solicitation law banning day laborers

Costa Mesa stops enforcement of anti-solicitation law banning day laborers

March 2, 2010 | Susan Valot | KPCC (89.3 KPCC/Southern California Public Radio)

Costa Mesa stops enforcement of anti-solicitation law banning day laborers

(Image Credit: Susan Valot/KPCC) Day laborers and supporters hold signs while they chant and sing outside Costa Mesa City Hall. Civil rights groups have filed a lawsuit on their behalf against the city's enforcement of an anti-solicitation ordinance.

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Costa Mesa has stopped enforcing its anti-solicitation ordinance that bars day laborers from looking for work on sidewalks and public land. The halt comes after the ACLU and other groups sued the city.

Last month, day laborers marched to Costa Mesa City Hall to mark the filing of the lawsuit.

They say the city singled them out under its ordinance that bans soliciting business on sidewalks or public property. The lawsuit claims the law violates free speech rights.

Costa Mesa officials decided to temporarily stop enforcing the ordinance until the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rules on a similar case in Redondo Beach.

That case has been working its way through the courts for several years, since a federal judge four years ago decided that Redondo Beach had violated free speech law by cracking down on day laborers with the anti-solicitation ordinance.

Federal judge rules Danbury 11’s immigration status irrelevant

Published: 09:47 a.m., Thursday, March 25, 2010

DANBURY — A federal judge has ruled that the men known as the Danbury 11 not be required to divulge their immigration status as part of their civil rights lawsuit against the city.

While attorneys for the city claimed the status was “at the heart of the case,” the judge cited previous case law when she ruled that handing over the information would have a “chilling” effect on other immigrants seeking to enforce their civil rights.

“We are gratified, but not surprised, because this order follows a long line of cases saying the courts should be open to everyone,” said Rebecca Heller, a law student with the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services organization at Yale Law School, which is representing the immigrants.

“People should not have to face harassment and deportation in order to vindicate their civil rights in federal court,” Heller said.

The Danbury 11 is a group of day laborers who were arrested in Danbury and turned over to immigration agents in September 2006 during a sting operation involving local police officers.

The lawsuit filed by the day laborers claims that local police don’t have the authority to enforce federal immigration law and that the officers used racial profiling when a local undercover officer picked them up at Kennedy Park.

“The judge magistrate’s decision seems correct to me, because it’s obvious what the defendants were doing that got them into court in the first place was unlawful,” said John Williams, a prominent civil rights lawyer in the state.

“The judge has said they (the city) can’t throw up a smokescreen and try to divert the jury from that reality,” he said. “The judge saw through the frivolous nature of this defense and will make the defendants act like adults instead of politicians.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Martinez said in her March 19 decision that the day laborers’ immigration status is not relevant to whether the city is allowed to enforce federal law.

She also noted that whether the local police officers “had a lawful basis for the detention and or arrest of the (day laborers) depends on what the officers knew at the time they detained” the immigrants.

Martinez said the day laborers’ immigration status is not relevant to whether officers had probable cause.

Wilson Hernandez, a former president of the Ecuadorian Civic Center in Danbury who has been closely following the case, said the judge’s decision sends a message to other immigrants who believe their rights are being violated.

“They can feel confident that they can go to the authorities if they feel their rights have been violated,” Hernandez said. “Otherwise, they would feel too intimidated to report anything.”

It’s out of fear of being deported, Hernandez said, that more than three-quarters of immigrants fail to report cases of abuse.

“They are afraid they won’t get the help they need or will be punished for going to the authorities if someone is taking advantage of them,” he said.

Local immigration attorney Michael Boyle said the city’s attempts to gain access to the day laborers’ immigration status amounts to a fishing expedition and a scare tactic that is often used in hope the plaintiffs will drop their case.

He added that, in general, most federal judges don’t like to encourage such fishing expeditions.

“It’s a very positive decision,” Boyle said. “But I think for the city of Danbury it astounds me that this case continues to go on forever.”

Mayor Mark Boughton, a five-term Republican seeking his party’s nomination in the gubernatorial race, has made national headlines in the past concerning immigration issues. He declined to comment specifically on this case because the matter remains pending.

Dan Casagranda, the local attorney handling the case for the city, could not be reached for comment in several attempts Wednesday.

Contact Dirk Perrefort


or 203-731-3358.

Immigrants Demand Reform, Now

by GAIUTRA BAHADUR March 24, pharm 2010 (, Washington, DC

To rally with immigrant advocates on the National Mall on Sunday, El Salvadoran factory worker Saul Linares said, he walked more than 250 miles–a greater distance than he had to walk to enter the United States illegally a decade ago. His trek from Long Island took eight days. The dozen jornaleros, or day laborers, who began the journey with him didn’t even get as far as New Jersey. Linares slept at churches along the way, and at one of them convinced Ramiro Huinil, a Guatemalan construction worker, to keep him company for the rest of the journey. The two men traveled to the rally on foot “to demonstrate how we suffer,” said Linares, now a legal resident of the United States. “I didn’t have to walk for long to come to America, but a lot of people do. They walk for long long days to come to the US. It’s very difficult to get visas to come legally.”

Though most physically got there by less dramatic means, the tens of thousands of other immigrants and their advocates who rallied in Washington, DC, this weekend were engaging in an exercise similar to Linares’s. Despite the political odds against them, they were making an impassioned gesture–one that may end up being entirely symbolic, because of the political odds against them.

The effort to legalize the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants inspired massive street demonstrations by supporters as well as a nasty, often racially charged backlash when it was last in the spotlight, three years ago. It seems unlikely that lawmakers would want to revisit that now, with unemployment at 10 percent, mid-term elections on the horizon and the long, bruising battle over healthcare climaxing the very day of the rally less than a mile away at the US Capitol. The only Republican backing a Senate blueprint to legalize undocumented workers–Senator Lindsey Graham, co-architect of that blueprint–has said that bipartisan support for it could not be achieved this year if healthcare passed.

The demonstrators seemed to know what will be required to tackle the issue: Change Takes Courage,” their signs read. It was an acknowledgement of the political challenges they face, as well as a moral call to action. They chanted: “¡Obama, Escucha! ¡Estamos en la lucha!” (literally: “Listen, Obama! We’re in the battle!”). The “battle” in their message to the president carried two connotations: that of their determination to fight for legalization, as well as their daily struggle, living in constant fear of deportation and subject to exploitation by employers.

Elizabeth Rodas, a lab technician from New Jersey and a US citizen, traveled to the rally with her undocumented husband, a construction worker from Ecuador, and their 15-month-old daughter. She said that recent immigration raids in Elizabeth, where they live, have left her terrified of losing her husband. “Any day they could take him away, and what would I do?” she said. “What would I do without my husband?”

Emma Moreno, director of the Spanish caucus for Teamsters Local 743 in Chicago, said that without an overhaul to the country’s immigration laws, employers would continue to abuse undocumented workers. “They say they don’t want undocumented workers,” she said, “but they hire them [anyway] through temporary agencies, and they pay them less than minimum wage. These immigrants have made a big contribution to this country.” Legalizing them “is something that morally the country has to do for them.”

If nothing changes, advocates say, a second-generation will be subject to low wages, no benefits and the lack of workplace protection. About a million young people entered the United States illegally with their parents when they were children, but were raised and educated as almost-Americans, with the same expectations as their peers. Many go to college, but emerge with degrees they can’t put to use because they have no legal right to work here. The rally included a large contingent of these students and their supporters, including Izzy, a 20-year-old studying fashion design at Dominican University outside Chicago. Her father is a forklift driver, and her mother works in a factory. They brought her across the US-Mexico border when she was 3 years old, imagining prospects for her better than their own. But she doesn’t know if she can fulfill their dream without immigration reform: “I’m just hoping that something will happen,” she said. “All I can do is wait.”

Advocates, angry that deportations have increased by 5 percent since Obama took office, emphasized at every turn at the rally that Latinos could do more than wait. They could also vote. And they had voted, two-thirds of them for Obama. “The immigrant community came out hard in a swing state and voted for change in large numbers,” said Subhash Kateel, an organizer with the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “They haven’t seen the change.”

Since their rallies in 2006, advocates have pushed hard to naturalize and register more immigrants. “There are more and more voters who care about this issue as one of their top issues,” said Regan Cooper, director of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, which helped sign up 12,000 new citizens in that state. Organizers also highlighted how their coalition has broadened to include evangelical churches and African-American groups not present in large numbers in 2006. The speakers included the Reverend Jesse Jackson and NAACP head Ben Jealous, for instance.

In a video address broadcast on giant screens at the rally, President Obama reiterated his promise to “fix our broken immigration system.” Despite the warnings of reprisals at the polls, advocates were keen to count that restatement of his commitment–following his swift endorsement of an immigration reform plan unveiled last week by Senator Graham and Senator Charles Schumer–as proof that they had brought pressure effectively to bear.

The vote for healthcare by Representative Luis Gutierrez of Chicago, a staunch ally of immigration reform advocates, likely played a role in those last-minute affirmations of support. As such, instead of seeing themselves as out of the shadows but overshadowed by healthcare, some advocates believe they now have some leverage on account of it. “It’s a glimmer of hope,” said Domingo Garcia, president of the Dallas chapter of the Latino advocacy group LULAC, who shepherded 400 people to the rally. As for the Republican support that President Obama has said he needs, he and other Latino leaders are already strategizing; they believe they might be able to sway Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, whose loss to Governor Rick Perry in the primary means she does not have to worry about a backlash at the polls in November.

Juan Hernandez, who directed Hispanic outreach for John McCain’s presidential campaign, said he is also hopeful that other Republicans can be brought on board, no matter the rancor over healthcare. “We can’t continue saying mañana, mañana, mañana,” he said, before taking the stage at the rally. “We have 12 million good people, who are not a security problem, who are the gasoline of the nation, and people of faith and conservatives are marching here” in support of them.

Jornaleros Win Census Soccer Tourney

Jornaleros Win Census Soccer Tourney

By Eloisa España, EGP Staff Writer

The Day Laborers of the Inland Empire took the “Yo Si Cuento” (I Do Count) trophy home on Sunday — and will keep it for the next 10 years.

Jornaleros Win Census Soccer Tourney

Census workers gave all they could but were unable to defeat the jornaleros in the first game of Sunday’s tournament. (EGP Photo by Eloisa España)

U.S. Census Bureau workers and Spanish language media reps took on the day laborers (jornaleros in Spanish) at a soccer tournament to symbolize that they, jornaleros, do count in the Census.

Agustin Duran, Partnership Spet of the Los Angeles Regional Census Center said they chose the city of Bell Gardens to host the tournament because it is in the East L.A. region; the second hardest to count area in the nation.

“We decided to play with the jornaleros because it is one of the hardest to count groups in the Latino community,” he said.

The jornaleros took an early lead in the tournament, winning the first game 3-0. They would go on to win the tournament by defeating ESPN Spanish radio, 5-3.

The tournament, which was free to attend, was put on with “cooperation from the city, the Census and also from NALEO and other community organizations,” said Duran, sharing that this is the first time an event like this has taken place in Bell Gardens.

Spectators who turned out to watch the soccer competition, were also able to take advantage of the Census Questionnaire Assistance Center set up to help people in need of assistance filling out their Census form.

Census workers now have ten years to prepare for the next tournament, and a chance to win back the trophy.

Shoveling for Immigration Reform

El Tiempo Latino, Milagros Meléndez-Vela, Posted: Feb 22, 2010

Day-laborers in Culmore helped to shovel snow after two severe storms in the Washington, D.C., area as part of a national campaign to bring awareness to the contribution of migrant workers in the U.S., according to the Spanish daily El Tiempo Latino. During their daily activities, the volunteers hung a sign that read: “Obama, changes mean justice,” inviting the president to fulfill his promise to pass immigration reform.

The campaign “Taking roots,” spearheaded by the National Day Labor Network, aims to focus on day-laborers’ positive impact in the communities in which they live. “We want to show with this initiative to local residents, businesses and politicians that day laborers are willing to contribute with their volunteer work to the betterment of this community,” said Carmen Hernández, director of the Culmore Committee for Tenants and United Workers.

Day Worker Center crew makes clean sweep

Written by Town Crier Report Tuesday, 23 March 2010
Photo Courtesy Day Worker Center Mountain View dayworkers spruce up the streets in Mountain View and Los Altos Feb. 17

The streets of Mountain View and Los Altos are cleaner, thanks to 35 workers from the Day Worker Center of Mountain View.

Along with Executive Director Maria Marroquin, patient teams picked up trash along Castro Street, El Camino Real and Escuela Avenue Feb. 17.

“The workers were very touched that the restaurants offered us water, that people stopped to thank them and that some of the residents on Escuela provided them with a bottle of soda with paper cups,” Marroquin said.

Workers contributed their time and labor as part of the center’s ongoing community service program and to mark the beginning of a new National Service Campaign by day workers in collaboration with the National Day Labor Organizing Network.

The center will carry out a community service activity every month as part of the campaign, in addition to the workers’ regular community activities, such as hosting and donating to blood drives.

The center helps day workers by promoting the integration, education and job-skills training of immigrants so they can contribute more fully to the communities in which they work and live.

For more information, call 903-4102.

The new faces of day labor

The new faces of day labor

The new faces of day labor

U.S. citizens are joining immigrants in store parking lots

Mon, Nov 2, 2009 (2 a.m.)

It sounds like a George Lopez joke.

“Times are so bad that I saw an Anglo day laborer standing outside Home Depot the other day.”

Except it’s true.

In the latest sign of the Las Vegas Valley’s economic free fall, U.S. citizens are starting to show up in the early mornings outside home improvement stores and plant ries across the Las Vegas Valley, jostling with illegal immigrants for a shot at a few hours of work.

Experts say the slow-starting but seemingly inexorable trend is occurring nationwide.

“It’s the equivalent of selling apples in the Great Depression,” said Harley Shaiken, chairman of the Center for Latin American studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

But it is not only a sign of the times, they add. If the numbers of citizens among the day laborers in cities across the country continue to grow, it’s likely to increase the ire of followers of TV host Lou Dobbs and others who will see illegal immigrants as stealing food off the tables of the nation’s native-born or naturalized poor.

Or, it may flip certain canards upside down in the immigration debate, easing tensions in some communities.

In the Las Vegas Valley, where the most recent unemployment rate was 13.9 percent, one face of this phenomenon is Ken Buchanan. The 50-year-old describes himself as a “food and beverage” guy, most recently working for four years at Renata’s Sunset Lanes casino and, before that, 30 years in a string of restaurants, hotels and casinos here and in his birthplace, Chicago.

But in 2006 Renata’s closed for remodeling. When the casino reopened as Wildfire, the management did not rehire Buchanan, he said.

In the months that followed, Buchanan discovered the difficulty of seeking work in his fifth decade, eventually winding up at Green Valley Car Wash, where he stayed for about two years, he said.

The banks foreclosed on the house he was renting. In the attempt to grab his things two steps ahead of the constable, he wound up missing work. He lost his job. He became homeless.

A Hispanic man Buchanan met in Renata’s sports book told him he had picked up work standing outside the Home Depot on Pecos Road at Patrick Lane. One July day, Buchanan gave it a try. At first, he got nothing but sunburn. But then he started to get work. Now he’s at the Home Depot six days most weeks.

Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the Los Angeles-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said he has been seeing the same thing elsewhere. “It’s happening, though still not in massive numbers,” Alvarado said. In the past six months or so, he has heard of “americanos” on the street corners and parking lots of Silver Spring, Md., Long Island, N.Y., and Southern California locations.

“It’s just beginning,” he said. “But I think it’s only going to increase.”

A recent morning’s swing through the valley produced reports of the same phenomenon. At Star Nursery on Cheyenne Road west of Tenaya Way, Nicolas stood shivering under a hooded sweatshirt, hoping a car or pickup would stop. The Mexican immigrant said he had seen a couple of “white guys” showing up recently, though not on the blustery cold days last week.

At Home Depot on Decatur Boulevard north of Tropicana Avenue, Jose said the same thing, adding that “it’s never more than three or four, but they’re coming out.”

Farther south, in front of Moon Valley Nursery on Eastern Avenue, Israel said a couple of “americanos” — white and black, he added — have come out for work in recent months. “But they tend to stay only a few days.”

As a sman at Moon Valley, Mike Fugitt’s job includes making sure the laborers don’t come into the ry’s parking lot, because their presence draws complaints from some customers. In the past three months or so, he said, more of those laborers have been telling him, “But I’m an American.” That includes some Hispanics, he added. “But I treat them all the same; they can’t be trespassing,” he said.

Workers at all the sites said the presence of the americanos hasn’t made work scarcer or produced any conflict. Some suggested that people hiring day laborers prefer Hispanics anyway, because of their reputation as hard workers.

Shaiken said shaking up the mix at day labor sites may eventually produce conflict in the greater society. “It essentially shreds the argument that Americans don’t want certain jobs,” he said.

In the current economy, he added, “we’re almost sure to see die-hard opponents of illegal immigrants seize on the fact that we have legal workers in day labor markets,” heating an already-inflamed debate.

In the longer term, it may also lead to a more rigorous analysis of future labor markets, including revised estimates of how many immigrants would be needed under a guest worker program, as proposed in recent congressional bills.

At the same time, Shaiken said, the issue won’t become central to the debate before Congress over what is known as comprehensive reform, including a pathway for legalizing millions of workers. “The point is, do we really want a labor market with day labor work as a career path? It’s more a commentary on the economy right now,” he said.

Although Alvarado allowed that the change in day labor sites was an undeniable sign of the withering economy, he also sees a “beautiful irony” in U.S. citizens seeking work as day laborers.

That’s because his organization has defended the free-speech rights of day laborers in at least 10 court cases over more than a decade. Up to now, courts have ruled in favor of the laborers.

“We always knew (these cases) would be useful not only for immigrants, but also for U.S. citizens,” Alvarado said. “We knew there would be a time when the economy would reach this point, and they also would be looking for work this way.”

Buchanan likes to wear a Cubs or White Sox cap as a sign of his Chicago heritage when he stands with one or two Hispanic laborers about 20 yards south of a larger crowd. He said he has gone through an education of sorts in the past four months. He has always worked around Hispanics in restaurants, hotels and casinos, but now he understands the issue of immigration from up close.

His sojourn got off to a rocky start. On one of his first days on the street outside Home Depot, another laborer told him he should move along because too many people were at the spot.

“I told him, ‘I’m an American citizen and you’re trying to push me off American soil?’?” The man walked away, and Buchanan says he hasn’t had another problem with his competitors since.

Instead, Buchanan has found himself defending the rights of his fellow laborers on more than one occasion. One day, a man tried to hire a bunch of them for $5 an hour. Again, Buchanan pulled out the “citizen card.” But this time, he was telling the other person that he, a U.S. citizen, knew about minimum wage laws, and was going to make sure those laws were followed. “I said, ‘You want me to write down your license plate number?’?” Buchanan recalled. The guy drove away.

Now, he said, “I get along with everybody here.”

He stands in a smaller group because he thinks that helps to get work. He reads the daily tea leaves of the trade, like the end of the month being a good time for moving jobs, because many people are moving in or out. His best week so far: $140. His longest stint without work: the first two weeks, “until I learned to be more aggressive.”

Antonio Bernabe, day labor organizer for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said the appearance of more and more U.S. citizens seeking day labor work on corners and in parking lots poses new challenges for organizations such as his. In recent months, he said, he has found himself explaining to a whole new group the legal rights of workers, as well as approaching local authorities to discuss the entry of new people into what he called “the world of day labor.” That group includes blacks and Asians, he said.

Another difference is that now he’s giving those explanations to laborers in English.

Bernabe said organizers came across one case where a local sheriff had been sending officers to answer complaints about day laborers and then found one day that the sheriff’s neighbor, a citizen, was among them. Police in that area have been less likely to harass laborers since then, he said. These events will occur more, changing people’s attitudes in the process, he said.

“For a long time, people have looked at day laborers and said, ‘The problem is the immigrants.’ Now the economy is changing. Now people may see it’s a problem of the labor market, of the rights of workers,” Bernabe said.

Buchanan, meanwhile, looks forward to a future that includes a steady job and an apartment. “I’m trying to dig my way out of this,” he said. When he does, however, he sees himself as a changed man.

“Before, I was part of the majority. Now I’m part of the minority … I’m not going to forget this. I’m not going to forget any of this.”

Labor advocates push for law making wage theft a criminal offense in L.A.

LA Times
October 26, 2009 | 12:43 pm

Advocates for day laborers and other low-wage workers are pushing for a new city law that would target unscrupulous employers by making wage theft a crime in the city of Los Angeles.

They have found an ally in City Councilman Richard Alarcon, view who plans to introduce a motion on Tuesday directing the city attorney’s office to write an ordinance that would criminalize nonpayment of wages.

“People think that just because they pick up somebody on the street or at a day laborer center that they don’t have the responsibility to pay them if they don’t like the work, ” Alarcon said. “This would make it illegal for somebody to do that.”

Los Angeles would join a handful of cities, including Austin, Texas, and Denver, that hold employers criminally responsible for not paying their employees. State and federal laws govern overtime, minimum wage and other labor standards, but the penalties typically are meted out through civil, rather than criminal, procedures. A local ordinance would allow city prosecutors to file misdemeanor charges against employers.

Alarcon said he was motivated by a recent study that showed many low-wage workers in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago often don’t receive minimum wage or overtime pay.

The study, based on interviews with more than 4,300 workers, found that 26% of workers weren’t paid minimum wage the week before and that 76% of those who worked overtime the previous week weren’t paid the proper overtime rate.

According to the report, the violations were widespread and occurred in various industries, including construction, child care and apparel.

“We were shocked ourselves,” said Ruth Milkman, a UCLA sociology professor and one of the authors of the study.

Milkman said employers need to know the laws – and that there are consequences for not following them. “If criminal penalties are what is needed, there is no reason not to try that,” she said.

Gary Toebben, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, said that people who work deserve to be paid, but that there are a lot of unanswered questions involving a possible ordinance, including what the trigger would be for an arrest and if it would cause additional backlogs in the courts. Before any ordinance is drafted, city officials should include private employers in the discussion.

“If the City Council is considering this, they would want to sit down with employers and labor attorneys … rather than simply passing a law,” he said.

– Anna Gorman