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Day laborers targeted by Oyster Bay rules, Latino groups say

Luz Torres, right, hands out fliers in Locust

Luz Torres, right, hands out fliers in Locust Valley, on Monday, to protest an ordinance that prohibits day laborers from soliciting work. (Dec.14, 2009) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

The men stand in small clumps along Forest Avenue in the tony enclave of Locust Valley. A country club sits across the street.

Some, like Carlos Enriquez, 34, originally of El Salvador, who now lives in Locust Valley, have long relied on this spot to meet contractors seeking to hire them as day laborers. But signs recently posted by the Town of Oyster Bay foretell trouble. "No stopping pursuant to TOB Code Sec. 205-32," the signs read.

Latino advocates and civil rights groups say they aren't going to allow town officials to enforce the ordinance, which prohibits anyone from soliciting work on a public road, without a fight. Tuesday, they will gather in Oyster Bay to protest the law, which they say unfairly targets day laborers.

"We're not going to stay quiet, we have to do something," said Luz Torres, director of the Centro Cultural Hispano de Oyster Bay, who passed out fliers to day laborers Monday morning. "This law is against our principles and against the people we serve."

Citing public safety as the underlying issue, the town board earlier this fall passed an ordinance prohibiting anyone in a public right of way from soliciting work, punishable by up to $250. It also prohibits anyone driving in a car from stopping to accept a solicitation of employment.

Supervisor John Venditto said the town has been distributing bilingual fliers to explain the law to laborers over the past few weeks, but has yet to enforce it. "We're not looking to punish anybody here, we're just looking to get rid of a problem that's occurring on the streets of our town," he said.

The law came out of ongoing complaints from Locust Valley residents. But Brian Plumb, who helped organize residents, said it was too touchy a subject for him to speak about in detail.. "It seems like the people who live in this country have less rights than the people who come here," he said. "That's all I have to say."

His mother, Felicia Plumb, 71, said she was pleased the town passed the law and hoped officials would start enforcing it. "I would say it's a little better; I don't see as many of them out there, but you know what - one is too many," she said. ". . . I have nothing against the men personally, but this is not the way we look for work in this country. There's a hiring center in Glen Cove. Go to the hiring center."

Day laborers say the Glen Cove hiring site is difficult to get to without transportation. And those that do go there sometimes, like Marcio David Canizales, 42, of Honduras, who now lives in Glen Cove, say there are too many workers, and not enough jobs.

Civil rights groups say they are exploring a lawsuit. "It's discriminatory because it's aimed at day laborers and it really does criminalize 'standing while Latino,' " said Samantha Fredrickson, director of the Nassau chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "Secondly, it violates the First Amendment because it criminalizes activities that are exercising speech, such as waving your arms while standing on a public sidewalk."

Alan Levine, special counsel for LatinoJustice PRDLF, a Manhattan-based Latino advocacy organization, said the ordinance still permits people on the street to raise money for a raffle or political candidate. Levine has successfully litigated similar ordinances in other communities.

"If there really is a serious traffic problem one would think they would bar all manner of communications between pedestrians and occupants of cars," he said. "The fact that it is targeted specifically at employment suggests that . . . day laborers really motivated this ordinance and that's the kind of targeted ordinance that raises questions."

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