For years, the intersection of Euclid and 5th streets in Santa Ana has been a makeshift employment center for a hundred or so men who gather there each morning--some as early as 5 a.m.--waiting for someone in a pickup truck to stop and offer them a job.
On Tuesday, the intersection was empty--the result of a five-day crackdown by Santa Ana police, who issued more than 57 citations in response to complaints by neighbors and merchants that many of the men loiter, block traffic and drive away customers.
But to the workers who depend on this sidewalk labor market, the crackdown means more than an inconvenience.
Without a car to take them to other gathering spots in neighboring cities, several said Tuesday that they don’t know where their next paycheck will come from. Some were also concerned that police were citing Latino men without cause, merely because they were walking in the area.
Couldn’t Go Off to Work
Some men in the area said that two men sitting on a bus bench were cited by police Tuesday and that officers prevented another young man from leaving with a prospective employer when the truck driver stopped for him several blocks away from the intersection.
Responding to complaints by neighbors that many of the day laborers in the area are illegal aliens, Santa Ana officials said that they will not turn over any of those arrested to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, nor will police assist any federal agency in an immigration raid in the area. Leonardo Olea, 50, said he was cited last Thursday while eating lunch with a friend outside Ronn’s Supermarket, which served as a spot where employers could pick up workers for construction, painting and other jobs.
Make Their Case in Court
Olea said police told them they would have to leave. A policeman then asked him what else he had been doing that day. When Olea said he came looking for a job, the officer cited him, he said.
“I wasn’t doing anything. I was just there eating lunch,” Olea said.
Police Lt. Jim Davis said the workers can fight their citation much the same way they would a traffic ticket. The citation is a promise to appear in court, where they can make their case if they feel they have been unjustly cited, he said.
Eduardo Guerrero, who has owned Euclid Barbershop at Euclid and 5th for about 20 years, acknowledges that most of the workers affected by the crackdown are “working people who want to work.”
But a small group, he said, have made the area an ugly--sometimes dangerous--place to stop by for a haircut or a soft drink.
“Would you come here or send your daughter here if these men were disrespectful?” Guerrero asked.
Guerrero said he feels compassion for the workers.
“We have sympathy for these people. We are from Mexico. We know this is a paradise compared to what they had,” Guerrero said. “Everyone has a right to work. We are all human beings. We all have inalienable rights. But their rights stop when they are infringing upon mine.”
Both Guerrero and his wife, Blanca, manager of the adjoining Ronn’s Supermarket, have their share of horror stories, such as the time one man pushed a supermarket clerk into the glass door or the time a couple of others dragged a woman on the sidewalk to steal her purse. Men often urinate publicly and are abusive to women and sometimes children patronizing the market, they added.
Anger Slowly Mounting
Even though troublemakers are few, anger has been slowly mounting in the neighborhood. Last week, more than 80 people met with Councilwoman Patricia A. McGuigan, who described the crowd as volatile.
“Things have built up so much there that people are willing to take things into their own hands,” McGuigan said.
With the number of disgruntled neighbors growing, police began their crackdown last Thursday--issuing citations mostly for impeding traffic on sidewalks and streets, said Deputy Police Chief Eugene B. Hansen. Most of the workers were taken into the police station, where they were photographed, fingerprinted, issued arrest-citations and released, Hansen said.
In Orange, a yearlong crackdown at a similar gathering spot has reduced the number of waiting workers from 200 a day to about 60 or 70, Orange Police Chief Wayne Streed said Tuesday. But Orange officers target a different party: the employers.
“The employers (are) . . . the ones who are causing the problems,” Streed said.
Prospective Employers Cited
In the past year, Orange police have issued about 200 citations--most of them to the prospective employers driving around the area on Chapman Avenue from Hewes Street to Prospect Street. The citations mostly were issued for impeding traffic, violating no-stopping zones and for carrying unsafe loads in their vehicles, Streed said.
Police have never used a city ordinance adopted in February, 1985, that permits citizens to warn “trespassers,” then arrest them 24 hours later. At the time, immigrant rights’ attorneys vowed to challenge the law, which they called unconstitutional. Streed said the workers have agreed to stay off private property--eliminating the need for anyone to implement the ordinance.