Ruling Likely Kills Bans on Day Laborers Seeking Work on Streets of Costa Mesa and Mission Viejo

Laws in Costa Mesa and Mission Viejo that ban day laborers from standing on public sidewalks to seek work from passing motorists are in jeopardy following a federal appeals court ruling.

When the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided 9-2 Friday to affirm a district court's previous ruling that the city of Redondo Beach's anti-solicitation ordinance is a "facially unconstitutional restriction on speech," it likely ended bans enacted in about 50 other California cities.

That includes the ones passed in Mission Viejo in 2007 and Costa Mesa two years later. Lake Forest had imposed a ban that was lifted after the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) worked out a settlement with the Orange County Sheriff's Department, which patrols the city, to end a threatened lawsuit.

"This ruling should serve as a warning to other cities that seek to harass or arrest day laborers who are just trying to provide for their families," reacted Lateefah Simon, executive director of the MALDEF Lawyers' Committee.

In February 2010, representatives of MALDEF, the ACLU and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) appeared with dozens of noisy protesters on the lawn in front of Costa Mesa City Hall to announce a lawsuit against that city's anti-solicitation ordinance.

Comité de Jornaleros de Redondo Beach v. City of Redondo Beach was originally filed by MALDEF in 2004. Redondo Beach modeled its ordinance after enforcement in Phoenix, Arizona, that prevented members of the political action group ACORN from soliciting donations from passing motorists. Friday's appellate ruling also strikes down the Phoenix law.

Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF's president and general counsel who argued the case before the 11-judge federal appeals panel on March 21, said Friday, "Today's en banc Ninth Circuit opinion resoundingly vindicates the First Amendment rights of day laborers throughout the western United States."

He continued: "The dozens of similar ordinances throughout the region that purport to prevent day laborers from speaking on sidewalks are now even more plainly violative of the Constitution. Each municipality with such an ordinance should immediately suspend and repeal its law. The longstanding principle that the right of free speech belongs to everyone has been significantly bolstered by this decision."

Pablo Alvarado, NDLON's executive director, also applauded the decision as "an outcome of a struggle in the courts and in the streets that began in the early nineties."

"The ordinances were intended to render day laborers invisible; but the struggle against these ordinances has made day laborers more visible, more powerful," Alvarado vowed. "For the past two decades, the ordinances have stigmatized day laborers as criminals--now they are civil rights leaders. So this victory is not just for them; it is for every American-a victory achieved by humble people for everyone."


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