When attorneys for Reston resident Stephen Thomas filed a motion in Fairfax County general court to have his charge of violating the town’s anti-solicitation ordinance dismissed on grounds that it violated his constitutional right to free speech, the ordinance was pulled into the same arena that other, similar municipalities had been in before.
In particular, two municipalities had their efforts to end open-air solicitations repealed by judges following lawsuits citing unfair restrictions on the civil rights of workers.
Following the motion to dismiss, attorneys for the Town of Herndon filed an opposition with the court, citing that the ordinance applies only to restrictions to the speech in a certain time, place and manner, claiming that it is therefore "in accordance with the constitutional protections afforded by the United States and Virginia Constitutions," according to court documents.
Thomas was arrested Sept. 16 by Herndon police, after allegedly asking a man at a Herndon 7-Eleven to assist him with some yard work, according to court records.
Herndon town attorney Richard Kaufman declined to comment on an active case, and several calls made to Thomas’s lawyer, Rodney Leffler of the Fairfax-based law firm Leffler & Hyland, were not returned at press time.
THE CITY of Redondo Beach, Calif., a coastal suburb about 20 miles south of Los Angeles had a zoning ordinance prohibiting street solicitations drafted around a successful and constitutionally-tested anti-solicitation ordinance for more than 20 years until legal challenges arose last year, according to Mike Webb, city attorney for Redondo Beach.
"What happened was, every few years we’d get workers starting to congregate again, and we’d go, cite a few of them and generally the problem would resolve," Webb said via phone interview from his Southern California office. "To us, this had always been an issue of public safety."
But the possibility of a formal day labor site for the workers, who were largely seen as not having legal authorization to work in the United States was not an option, due to the possibility of workers returning to the streets after dissatisfaction with hiring systems and threats of lawsuits from conservative groups, he said.
"We were trying real hard to stay out of the immigration debate. To us, this wasn’t about illegal workers, it was about public safety," Webb said. "We couldn’t set up [a formal hiring site] because we’d be subjecting ourselves to a lawsuit from the other side."
The problem of day laborers soliciting work locally didn’t go away, despite the ordinance, Webb said. Legal challenges to the ordinance seriously arose about two years ago.
"The police went out there to achieve compliance, and it somehow made it on to Univision [Spanish-language broadcasting network] in Miami and a lawsuit followed," Webb said.
Day laborers, in association with the National Day Labor Organizing Network based in Los Angeles challenged the constitutionality of the ordinance in U.S. Circuit Court and were successful in having it overturned.
The City of Redondo Beach has since filed an appeal, and is awaiting details.
The workers presently are soliciting on the street as they had before, he said.
WHILE THE VILLAGE of Mamaroneck, N.Y., a suburb about 30 miles north of New York City, never officially passed an anti-solicitation ordinance, dealing with the high number of day laborers had become a regular facet of municipal administration, according to Leonard Verrastro, Mamaroneck village manager.
After several years of informal solicitations in Mamaroneck, the town entered into a partnership with a local Hispanic community group in late 2004 to run an informal site in a municipal parking lot near a commuter train station, Verrastro said in a phone interview. But in February 2006, the number of workers appearing at the site suddenly doubled when another local day labor site was closed.
"It started creating a lot of problems with the cars pulling in, too many solicitations to commuters who were just trying to catch the train to work," Verrastro said. "So the town stopped supporting the site, we increased the police presence, stopped the contractors from entering the site and tried to bring the situation under control."
The increased enforcement and police attention were more about abating a public nuisance to area residents attempting to go about their business than it was about any ideological notion against illegal immigrants finding work, according to Verrastro.
"This was just something that was disruptive to the area, we had a train station there and a lot of people need to use that parking lot," he said.
In a few months, the Village of Mamaroneck was faced with a lawsuit sponsored by the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund, which eventually ended up in U.S. federal court. Although the judge ultimately ruled that there was no obligation for the town to provide a site for the workers, the town was ordered to work with community organizations to come up with an "amicable resolution" to allow the workers a place to solicit employment without disturbing the peace, according to Verrastro. The workers are currently spread throughout the town, engaging in spot solicitations, he said.
One of the possible solutions in Mamaroneck is to develop a formal site away from heavily-traveled areas where the workers can solicit employment.
"Right now there still is no designated site, but the mayor and our attorneys are meeting at this point and trying to work something out," he said.
WHEN THE APPEAL to the case of Redondo Beach’s anti-solicitation ordinance is heard, the city will know its next set of options, whether that be in enforcing the anti-solicitation ordinance or trying to find another course of action towards addressing the issue of public safety, Webb said.
If the ruling is upheld and Redondo Beach cannot enforce its anti-solicitation ordinance it could amount to several administrative challenges, he added.
"We definitely don’t want to do anything to violate the court order, but we’ll need to be very intensive as far as our police resources go … if we’re going to control this somehow," Webb said. "In seeing the cases with these lawsuits coming from both sides of the aisle, no matter what you do, no one really comes out well in the end."