NDLON in the News

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ACLU ruffles some O.C. feathers

American Civil Liberties Union has settled 4 high-profile cases in past 2 months.

THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

 

Three years ago, the American Civil Liberties Union was a distant entity with little or no connections in Orange County.

But that has changed since September 2005 when the ACLU decided to set up in a small office suite on Chapman Avenue in Orange with two attorneys and one legal assistant.

This group has handled at least 10 cases since, not counting others that were resolved before a lawsuit was filed. In the last two months, ACLU attorneys have settled four high-profile Orange County cases. They have represented a Buddhist congregation in Garden Grove seeking to build a temple in an office complex, day laborers in Lake Forest, a Christian group that was banned from feeding the homeless in Doheny State Beach and a man who was thrown out of a Costa Mesa City Council meeting.

The group’s entry into Orange County has been a long time coming, said Ramona Ripston, executive director of ACLU Southern California.

“Orange County has changed dramatically over the years,” Ripston said. “However, we continue to deal with the same issues we have dealt with since the ’70s – race, poverty and rights for the underprivileged.”

ACLU Orange County has also tackled other issues in the last three years, says attorney Hector Villagra, who heads the local office.

Villagra says one of the first cases they took on involved a controversial program proposed by the Fullerton School District, which required parents to spend $1,500 to equip their children with laptop computers. A group of parents, who believed they were being scrutinized and discriminated against by the school district over their reluctance to pay for the laptops, approached the ACLU, which was able to reach an agreement with the school district to make the program accessible to all students.

That case, in fact, was pivotal in introducing the ACLU to all segments of the Orange County population, including conservative Christians such as Sandra Dingess, who admits she had certain pre-conceived notions about the ACLU.

“I had this stereotypical notion of the ACLU, that they were always the devil’s advocate, on the wrong side of issues,” says the Fullerton parent, who at the time was faced with putting $6,000 on her credit card to laptops for four children. “But in this case, they protected my rights and my children’s rights.”

Jim Seiler, a member of Christian group Welcome INN, said ACLU was a last resort for him and other members of his group, who were stopped by state park officials in February from feeding the homeless on Doheny State Beach. The group fed at least 50 people on the beach each evening, Monday through Friday, he said.

“I’d always thought of the ACLU as representing atheists and groups of people whose ideas I don’t subscribe to,” Seiler said. “I was shocked that they offered to help us.”

Although ACLU won some hearts in conservative quarters, their most vehement critics remain local city officials and those with strong positions on the immigration issue.

The ACLU sued the city of Lake Forest and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department over a city ordinance that barred laborers from soliciting work on Lake Forest sidewalks. City Councilman Richard Dixon says his experience with the ACLU in that case left a bitter taste in his mouth. He said the city wasn’t enforcing the ordinance.

ACLU filed a frivolous lawsuit that benefited no one and cost taxpayers heavily, Dixon said.

“Maybe some of their lawsuits are beneficial,” he said. “But by and large, I find them trying to grandstand and chest-pound when they don’t need to be pounding their chests. It’s complete nonsense. In our case, thankfully, truth and justice won over stupidity.”

The protracted lawsuit ended in August when the city and the sheriff’s department agreed to allow the day laborers to solicit work on public sidewalks as long as they followed the law.

In other instances where the ACLU was involved, there were issues of conflict between local government and federal laws. The ACLU filed a lawsuit last year against the city of Garden Grove challenging their zoning laws for denying a building permit to a Buddhist temple on Chapman Avenue.

Belinda Escobosa-Helzer, who represented the temple on behalf of the ACLU, said the city violated the temple members’ rights to congregate and practice their religion. This case culminated in a settlement agreement in September with the city agreeing to give the temple another chance to apply for a permit, which would be “considered favorably.”

But Garden Grove Councilman Mark Rosen, who voted against that agreement in closed session, said the case should have gone to trial.

“As a councilman, I wanted to see the federal law challenged,” he said. “I don’t believe federal government should interfere with decisions that are made by local governments.”

Escobosa-Helzer said she found, especially during this case, that having an office in Orange County helps her interact and communicate better with clients.

In the future, Villagra says his office will continue to be involved with issues such as education, immigrant rights and rights of those in jail. Recently, his office sent out a letter to the sheriff’s department alerting them to a complaint from inmates that they were being forced to share razor blades.

“There was a legitimate concern of HIV and Hepatitis,” he said. “But that issue was resolved with a letter.”

Their goal in Orange County is also to build ties with the community, Escobosa-Helzer said.

“It helps us recognize the problems in different communities and ways to find solutions,” she said.

Contact the writer: 714-445-6685 or dbharath@ocregister.com

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Day Laborers Give Back to Pomona! Clean Up of the Historic Casa Primera!

Pomona Economic Opportunity Center

For Immediate Release

Day Laborers Give Back to Pomona! Clean Up of the Historic Casa Primera!

Contact: Suzanne Foster 

Who:
Pomona Economic Opportunity Center (PEOC)
Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA)
Institute of Popular Education of Southern California (IDEPSCA)
Central American Resource Center (CARECEN)
National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON)

Where:
Casa Primera
1659 N. Park Ave.
Pomona, CA 91768

When:
Thursday, click September 4th, 2008
9:00 am Press Conference
Clean Up of Casa Primera the rest of the morning

(Pomona, CA) Day laborers from across Los Angeles County will host a local community
volunteer effort in Pomona on Thursday, September 4 as part of a national campaign —
“Echando Raices” or “Growing Roots”—sponsored by members of the National Day Laborer
Organizing Network. Along with the beautification of the local community, the day laborers
will promote tolerance, understanding and respect for immigrants and their families. They
will be volunteering their efforts to clean-up the “Casa Primera,” the first house built in the
Pomona Valley in 1837. Contributing towards the beautification of the Pomona community
is a priority for the day laborers that live and work here. The volunteer day will be done in
memory of a long-time member of the Pomona Day Labor Center who recently passed away, David Villalta.

According to leading experts, approximately 117,000 day laborers seek and receive
work every day in cities and towns across the country. Despite the undeniable demand for
their services, day laborers’ rights are routinely violated, as they are underpaid by employers and attacked by vigilantes. In this politically charged climate, day laborers have organized to improve their communities and to defend their basic rights. They have created worker centers, designated areas, and organized street corners to respond to local concerns about day laborer hiring, to hold employers accountable, and to participate in political decisions about their lives.

“In the face of weak economic times and the abuses often directed against them, day
laborers have organized to give back to the community in which they live, work, and raise
their families,” said Suzanne Foster, director of the Pomona Economic Opportunity Center. She continued, “The day laborers are particularly excited about beautifying a local historical site so that the public may enjoy it and learn about the history of Pomona.”

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Herndon’s Headache

The town may take another ill-advised swipe at day laborers.

Washington Post
Friday, August 22, 2008; Page A16

HERNDON OFFICIALS shouldn’t be surprised that day laborers are again crowding the town’s streets. When Herndon opened a center that connected employers with day laborers in 2005, the western Fairfax County town of 23,000 people — about a third of whom are Hispanic — found a sensible way to deal with an unregulated scramble for jobs that sed onto the town’s sidewalks. It also found itself at the focal point of a national debate about illegal immigration. Critics said the group that operated the center should check the immigration status of the laborers. Town officials shut the center last year. Now many of the officials who fought to close the center are scrambling for answers as they consider whether to take another ill-advised swipe at immigrants.

The reappearance of the laborers, who observers say number between 50 and 100, has irritated some citizens and officials. Most of the workers wait on Elden Street, where many of the town’s busiest retailers are located. But people have a constitutional right to seek jobs in public, so council member Dennis D. Husch has proposed a number of oblique approaches to make their lives difficult, such as attempting to remove pay phones and confiscating bicycles chained to trees and sign posts. He also suggests limiting alcohol s in the area where the laborers gather. Mayor Stephen J. DeBenedittis didn’t dismiss the suggestions but told us that he was hesitant to do anything to make the town less pedestrian and bicycle-friendly. Groups that support the laborers say that such rules are discriminatory and would probably be struck down in court.

Mr. Husch’s proposal is an unwitting admission that closing the center was a mistake. The center, which taught laborers English and provided them with small comforts such as coffee, kept workers from loitering. Before it opened, laborers jostled for work each morning outside a local 7-Eleven. It was a chaotic scene, and there were reports of public urination, fistfights and other misconduct. There haven’t been similar reports of misconduct since the center closed, but some residents say that the situation is worse now, because the laborers don’t confine themselves to the 7-Eleven.

The failure of the federal government to fix the immigration mess in Fairfax Countyand across the country has put a burden on local officials. But they still have options. They can embrace practical solutions, such as the laborer center. Or they can follow Herndon’s floundering example.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/21/AR2008082103105.html

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Big Boxes and Day Laborers

By The Editorial Board

NYTIMES
 

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday afternoon passed an ordinance requiring the biggest big-box home-improvement stores — Home Depot, and in other words — to deal with the problems caused when groups of day laborers gather outside to look for work.

The new law does not explicitly require the creation of day-laborer hiring sites — rudimentary, roped-off areas with shade, water, toilets and benches — but that is what the stores would most likely do to comply with the new rule. The ordinance makes the stores responsible for keeping their parking lots safe, clean and orderly for the mingling of contractors, pers and day laborers.

It’s smart for several reasons:

Basic crowd-and-vehicle control. It’s never a good idea to have dozens of men looking for work in vast, barren parking lots without trash cans or toilets. Ad-hoc hiring sites can be unsightly, chaotic, and dangerous. But setting up amenities for day laborers has been controversial, because immigration hard-liners bitterly resist simple measures that might help the people they want to lock up and deport. They would prefer to wish away the problem rather than deal with it, as Los Angeles has.

Justice and dignity for day laborers — and other low-wage workers, both immigrant and native-born. Day labor can be a brutally hard way to make a living. But rock-bottom pay, cruel working conditions and wage-and-hour abuses — the kinds of things that make Lou Dobbs weep for the native-born American worker — are discouraged when day laborers have safe, well-run places to look for work. The idea is to deny bottom-feeding employers the opportunity to exploit people off the books and out of sight, and that is exactly what hiring sites do.

There are strong practical reasons for giving day laborers basic shelter, but there is a powerful moral argument, too. Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, based in Los Angeles, puts it eloquently: “If you accept my labor, you must accept my humanity.”

Customers should not weep for Home Depot, a chain whose very business model — selling building supplies in bulk — encourages and benefits from day labor. The company has profited immensely in the globalized world and crosses borders with ease — far more easily than, say, the hard-working immigrant men so many of its customers rely on for help with drywall, painting, landscaping and other manual jobs.

Other communities with day-laborer problems should look at what Los Angeles has done, and follow its good example. It was a long battle, but worth it.

“It took four years to get a four-page ordinance,” said a relieved Bernard Parks, the city councilman who sponsored it, just before the successful vote.

http://theboard.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/08/14/big-boxes-and-day-laborers/

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Council passes day-labor center ordinance

By Sid Garcia
http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/local/los_angeles&id=6326157 

LOS ANGELES (KABC) — Wednesday’s vote ends four years of laboring over how to regulate day laborers at large home improvement stores.

The City Council passed an ordinance Wednesday that requires home-improvement stores such as The Home Depot, clinic Lowe’s, Osh and others more than 100,000 square feet in size to set aside space for day-laborer shelters. The shelters must include drinking water, bathrooms, tables, seating and garbage cans, and must be close to the store location.

The 15-member City Council voted for the ordinance unanimously Wednesday.

“It is not an ordinance that impacts or takes into account a person’s immigration status,” said L.A. City Councilman Bernard Parks. “It’s not an ordinance that mandates shelters. It merely gives communities the ability to have input in the conditional-use process.” 

 Supporters say labor centers at these stores will make it safer for the workers, and those seeking to hire them.

“The proposed ordinance requires only that there’s a plan upfront before a store opens,” said Pablo Alvarado, member of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. “That is an essential first step to ensure that we have successful day laborer centers in our city.”

“As this economy gets worse, I will tell you, there will be more people who want to find day work, and I think that this is a good ordinance. I think it makes sense,” said City Councilwoman Janice Hahn.

The ordinance goes to Mayor Villaraigosa; once the ordinance is signed by the mayor, the ordinance becomes law and goes into effect in 30 days. It also requires store developers to look into the need for security.

This ordinance, according to Parks, will save the city around $2 million per year in litigation and solve other problems day laborers congregating at home-improvement stores cause.

City News Service contributed to this report.

http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/local/los_angeles&id=6326157 

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Day Laborer Ordinance Receives Approval

Published on CBS2.com

LOS ANGELES (AP) ? The Los Angeles City Council has approved an ordinance that could be used to require home improvement stores to provide shelter, patient water and bathrooms for day laborers looking for work.

The ordinance, which passed unanimously, says that big box stores like Home Depot built in the future receive “conditional-use” permits, which would allow city officials to impose the restrictions.

Councilman Bernard Parks who first proposed the ordinance four years ago says it is the first move of many to try to improve conditions for such workers.

A group of day laborers in the council chambers cheered the decision.
Home Depot spokeswoman Kathryn Gallagher expressed her company’s
disappointment, saying the issue is more “complicated than placing mandates on businesses.” 

http://cbs2.com/local/daylaborer.ordinance.2.794843.html

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