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Civil liberties lawyer seeks to end restrictions on day laborers in Oyster Bay

Oyster Bay Town Hall on March 26, 2012.

Oyster Bay Town Hall on March 26, 2012. Credit: Nicole Bartoline

A lawyer for day-laborer advocacy groups is again trying to convince a federal judge to permanently bar the Town of Oyster Bay from enforcing an ordinance prohibiting laborers from using the town's streets and sidewalks to solicit work.

Jordan Wells, who represents Centro de la Comunidad Hispana de Locust Valley and the Hempstead-based Workplace Project through the New York Civil Liberties Union, wrote to U.S. District Court Judge Denis Hurley on Tuesday.

He argued that a June U.S. Supreme Court decision bolsters an earlier motion by the laborers' groups to permanently block the 2009 law from taking effect. In 2010, Hurley suspended enforcement of the law while he considered arguments in the case.

An attorney for Oyster Bay, Jonathan Sinnreich, filed a response on Wednesday, telling the judge the Supreme Court ruling is "utterly irrelevant to the facts and circumstances of this case."

The law stems from the town's concern over the day laborers -- many of them Latin American immigrants -- who have gathered for years in Locust Valley looking for landscaping, construction and other work.

This week's letters are the latest salvos in a 5-year-old case in which attorneys for the laborers' groups allege the law reflects anti-immigrant and anti-Latino bias, and lawyers for the town say the measure was motivated by safety and traffic concerns.

The Supreme Court case addressed an Arizona town's limits on signs.

The court unanimously struck down the law.

"Just like the people who wanted to put their signs up were prevented from putting their signs up, and therefore couldn't speak, the people here who wanted to solicit work are prevented from soliciting work, and they can't speak," said Corey Stoughton, an attorney for the New York Civil Liberties Union. "That makes it a free-speech issue."

But Sinnreich said the Arizona case has nothing to do with Oyster Bay's law, which he argued does not regulate speech.

"Our ordinance is directed at the conduct of an unlawful labor market on the streets of the town that results in all sorts of hazardous and unsafe conduct," Sinnreich said Thursday.

Laborers dart into traffic to negotiate with drivers and block pedestrians from navigating sidewalks, he said.

Stoughton disputes many of the allegations about workers' alleged conduct and said existing laws already prohibit the behavior the town says it is trying to restrict.

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