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Day Laborer Plan Gets Cool Response : Immigration: Rep. Elton Gallegly announces a crackdown. But Moorpark wants to solve the problem itself.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A proposal by Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) to crack down on illegal immigrants and their employers drew a cold response Thursday from officials in Moorpark, where the day laborer issue has been the subject of recent controversy.

Gallegly announced Thursday that a new U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service task force will conduct a series of sweeps in Agoura Hills and other communities in his district. Undercover officers will also investigate employers, who could face stiff fines as well as possible jail time if they knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

Gallegly made the announcement at a news conference in the parking lot of an Agoura Hills shopping center near the Ventura Freeway where laborers wait for work. Also attending was Robert Moschorak, district director of the Los Angeles branch of the INS.

Agoura Hills will be the first site of the crackdown because of longstanding complaints from merchants and city officials, but Gallegly said he will push for similar enforcement measures in Moorpark and other Ventura County areas if local officials ask him to do so.

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But that is not likely to happen, local officials said Thursday.

Officials in Moorpark, which has recently been hit with complaints from merchants and residents about day laborers soliciting work at a downtown street corner, said they prefer to resolve the problem without the congressman’s help.

“He isn’t going to be asked by me,” Mayor Paul Lawrason said. “I would not want to go to that length. For their situation in Agoura Hills, that may be the right solution. But I don’t think that is the solution for our area.”

Councilman Bernardo Perez agreed.

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“Bringing in the Immigration and Naturalization Service is totally inappropriate,” he said. “It’s like making a blanket statement that these workers do not belong in this country. That is essentially what the congressman is saying.”

Perez said he felt that the stepped-up enforcement will only result in harassment of day laborers and will ultimately fail.

“Our council has expressed a willingness and interest to work with merchants and day laborers” to come up with an alternative site for day laborers to solicit work, he said. “I think that is 100 times better than the course that the congressman and Agoura Hills are taking.”

Perez said city officials believe that the majority of day laborers in Moorpark are longtime, documented residents. He said the City Council will discuss the city’s day laborer situation at its meeting Wednesday.

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Gallegly said the INS estimates that about half the laborers in Agoura Hills are illegal immigrants. In rebuttal, Nancy Cervantes, an attorney for Public Counsel, said that figure is high. She said 21 of 27 men detained in a raid in June were later released.

“Most of the guys just aren’t undocumented anymore,” Cervantes said. “The INS has just basically gotten on board in this war on Latinos in Agoura Hills.”

In March, Agoura Hills passed a law that bans soliciting work in the street. Since then, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has issued periodic citations and immigration authorities have conducted several raids.

But up to 100 day laborers still congregate daily. Some conducted a recent protest march at Agoura City Hall to urge repealing the ordinance, which the ACLU and others plan to challenge. A similar law in Costa Mesa was ruled unconstitutional.

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