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INS Promises Crackdown on Laborers : Employment: Agency says it will focus on employers who hire illegal immigrants. Civil rights advocates and workers say the action will lead to harassment of Latinos.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Federal officials went to the scene of an ongoing conflict over day laborers in Agoura Hills on Thursday and announced plans for a crackdown on illegal immigrants and their employers at street-corner hiring sites around Southern California.

An Immigration and Naturalization Service task force will put new emphasis on citing employers who hire illegal immigrant laborers in violation of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, said Robert Moschorak, Los Angeles INS district director. He said the INS will also step up efforts to arrest laborers who are illegally in the United States.

Dozens of day laborers--some who ride buses two hours from the inner-city in search of work and others who sleep in lean-tos in nearby hills--listened as Moschorak and Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) spoke at a shopping center by the Ventura Freeway where laborers wait for work.

In heated debates after the news conference, laborers said the plan will result in harassment of men who are trying to earn a living.

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Laborer Antonio de la Rosa, who said he is a legal resident, told Moschorak: “This is discrimination. You don’t discriminate against Europeans. You just discriminate against Latinos.”

“I don’t think it’s discrimination if we check people to see if they are illegal,” Moschorak replied in Spanish.

In response to fears that the crackdown will increase harassment of Latinos in Agoura Hills, Gallegly said: “The merchants here say their business is down 30% or 40%. We are trying to protect their rights.”

Gallegly said he met with the INS because of increasing complaints from merchants that laborers are unruly and intimidating. He said he also received complaints about hiring corners in Santa Clarita and the Ventura County communities of Moorpark and Fillmore.

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

But up to 100 laborers still congregate daily. Some recently conducted a protest march at Agoura Hills City Hall urging annulment of the ordinance, which the American Civil Liberties Union and others plan to challenge with a lawsuit. A similar law in Costa Mesa was ruled unconstitutional.

Moschorak declined to give details about the size and cost of the undercover task force or where it will operate outside of Agoura Hills. He said the INS will also hit other sites of the 40 around Los Angeles where there are complaints about day laborers, an issue that has become part of Southern California’s economic landscape.

The laborers in Agoura Hills said INS agents will be unable to arrest many of them because they have legal status through either the 1986 amnesty program or recent court rulings shielding Salvadorans and Guatemalans from deportation. That reflects the changing composition of day laborers, an increasing number of whom are legal but cannot find work, according to experts.

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Gallegly said the INS estimates that about half the laborers in Agoura Hills are illegal immigrants. 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 released.

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

Immigrant advocates also questioned whether the INS can sustain a widespread operation against day laborers, noting that officials have often said they do not have the resources to eliminate the problem. INS officials acknowledged that resources are scarce, but they said enforcing the sanctions against employers is a high priority.

Employers who fail to fill out paperwork on employees can be fined up to $1,000, Moschorak said. Those who knowingly hire illegal immigrants face fines of up to $10,000, as well as jail time of six months and additional fines if they violate the law systematically, he said.

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