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Alien Day Laborers Move to a Sanctioned Location

Times Staff Writer

More than 50 day laborers climbed into vans and moved across Glendale on Wednesday in the first day of an unusual experiment to provide an officially sanctioned hiring site.

The workers moved voluntarily from a busy downtown intersection, where their presence had bothered local merchants, to the parking lot of a Catholic community organization on the edge of the city. The relocation plan was negotiated last week between Glendale officials and four private groups as an alternative to a proposed ordinance that would have made it illegal for day laborers to solicit work while standing on city property.

Glendale is one of at least half a dozen Southern California cities that have confronted the day laborer problem with legislative proposals. But the Glendale experiment is apparently the first in the region that does not exclude illegal aliens.

Don’t Plan an Investigation

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Immigration and Naturalization Service officials said they did not plan to investigate the new Glendale site unless they received complaints. “Our general strategy is that if we receive an unusually large number of complaints from business people or residents in a particular area, we try to go over there to check work permits,” spokesman Joe Flanders said when asked about the plan.

Under the agreement, operators of the Catholic Youth Organization center on San Fernando Road are allowing laborers to congregate on their property from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. daily. After that, the organization will let them wait on the sidewalk outside the property.

The spontaneous gathering of day laborers on sidewalks has been a persistent problem in Southern California for years. But this summer, as immigration authorities began enforcing a ban on the employment of illegal aliens under the 1986 immigration law, the street corner hiring sites--and the complaints by merchants--have multiplied.

Earlier this year, Redondo Beach passed a law banning the hiring of laborers from street corners. Costa Mesa will open a city-run hiring hall next week for workers who are legal residents, but prohibited undocumented aliens from using the facility. Other cities--including Long Beach, Placentia and Orange--are debating similar solutions.

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The Glendale plan, immigrant rights groups and city officials said, could set a precedent for addressing a practice that has become a matter of survival for workers but has increasingly frustrated merchants who say the loitering scares away customers and disrupts business.

“I think we have something that is going to work,” Glendale Mayor Carl Raggio said. “What I want to do is have the option of putting this ordinance on hold until we find out just how successful we are with this.”

The first day went smoothly, with workers elected as leaders directing the laborers to the new site, where coffee and sweet rolls were served.

“Little by little we’ve lost our fear,” said Jose Galdamez, 34, a Salvadoran immigrant elected to represent the workers. “We’ve achieved something that has been denied us in the past. It’s a victory.”

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Some Remain Suspicious

But even so, some said they remained suspicious, fearing a raid on the new site by federal officials and the loss of work if contractors do not cooperate with the plan.

“We’re not exactly afraid, but we have our doubts,” said one worker standing at the corner of Jackson Street and Broadway on Wednesday. “La Migra (the immigration service) goes wherever they want to.”

Immigrant rights groups said many contractors have been unwilling to admit that they hire the day laborers and reluctant to commit to the new system.

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“It was easy to get to the workers and remarkably easy to get them to organize,’ said Diane Jacoby, volunteer coordinator with El Rescate, a Los Angeles-based refugee rights group. “It wasn’t at all easy to get to the contractors. They didn’t want to admit that they were hiring day workers.”

At least some merchants expressed relief that the laborers were leaving their neighborhood.

“They are running in front of the cars, they are running in front of (women), the customers complain,” said Sarwar Ibrahim, cashier at the 7-11 store where the workers had been gathering.

The success of the relocation effort over the next few days could determine the direction taken by the Glendale City Council when it considers the ordinance Tuesday. The council was expected to adopt the ordinance Aug. 9, but opposition from Latino representatives, day laborers and residents persuaded council members to postpone the vote and instruct the city manager, David H. Ramsay, to propose other solutions.

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Meanwhile, federal agents converged on a Sylmar street corner Wednesday morning where day laborers congregate, arresting 43 suspected illegal aliens, authorities said.

Times staff writer Hector Tobar contributed to this article.


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