It has been more than six months since the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that Redondo Beach, click Calif., violated the Constitution with an ordinance making it illegal for day laborers to solicit work from the sidewalk. The city had used the ordinance to crack down on immigrant laborers in 2004, sending police officers posing as employers to pick up workers and take them to jail. The court rightly rejected the city’s argument that the law was a narrowly tailored attempt to enhance public safety by keeping men and cars from disrupting traffic. “The ordinance restricts significantly more speech than is necessary,” the judges wrote.
But while the ruling against Redondo Beach could not have been clearer, similar ordinances remain on the books in more than 50 municipalities across California. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or Maldef, which brought the lawsuit on behalf of the Redondo Beach laborers, recently sent letters to a dozen of those communities, demanding that they erase these unconstitutional blots from their books and spare themselves the effort and expense of litigation that they would certainly lose. They should listen.
Officials who strike harsh poses on immigration often focus their anger and law-enforcement firepower on day laborers, who are among the most visible and vulnerable of the recent immigrant population. It doesn’t matter to them that these laborers are violating no laws and personify hallowed conservative ideals of hard work and self-sufficiency. But, in criminalizing the act of looking for work, these hard-liners are not only being cruel and counterproductive. They are putting themselves on the wrong side of the most fundamental law of the land.