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ACLU Battles Ordinance Targeting Day Laborers : Law: The group seeks to overturn the Agoura Hills ban on workers congre- gating on roadsides. City officials call it a public-safety measure.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California Wednesday challenged the constitutionality of a controversial Agoura Hills law that prohibits day laborers from congregating on roadsides in search of work.

In a 47-page brief filed with the 2nd District Court of Appeals in Los Angeles, the organization contended that the west San Fernando Valley city violated free speech and the right of public assembly.

Robin Toma, an ACLU attorney, said the organization is appealing a lower court ruling that upheld the law.

The case involves day laborers who were arrested in June, 1991, by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies enforcing the ordinance. Twenty-seven men suspected of being undocumented workers were turned over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

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The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Public Counsel, the Central American Refugee Center and the National Immigration Law Center also support the appeal.

City officials portrayed the ordinance as a public-safety measure crafted to eliminate the public nuisance of day laborers flagging down cars and blocking traffic on main thoroughfares.

But since the law went into effect in July, 1991, civil rights attorneys have argued that day laborers, who are often Latino males, have been harassed and cited by sheriff’s deputies who patrol the city for “standing, waving or walking” on public sidewalks and in parking lots.

Toma counters that if the city enforced the law equally, such enterprises as children’s lemonade stands and roadside vegetable stands would also be illegal.

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“We’re challenging the law because it is intended to rid the city of day laborers,” Toma said. “We argue that the trial court made an error as a matter of law, and the Agoura Hills ordinance violates the state Constitution.”

Toma has failed in several attempts to block enforcement of the law through requests for preliminary injunctions and temporary restraining orders filed in Van Nuys Superior Court over the last two years.

City Manager Terry Matz, who took office in May, declined to comment on the case and referred questions to Richards, Watson & Gershon, a Los Angeles law firm representing the city. Rochelle Browne, an attorney with the firm, said the ordinance “doesn’t stop them from seeking work in the city” in a legal manner.

“We’re confident that the ordinance is valid on its face,” Browne said.

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The ordinance, for example, doesn’t prevent people from seeking work door-to-door or soliciting contributions or employment from businesses or pedestrians, Browne said.

She also said the issue of how much control the city has over the county sheriffs assigned to the city will be addressed in court.

In response to allegations of harassment of day laborers for standing on the sidewalk, Browne said if that had occurred, “the sheriffs have been enforcing something our ordinance doesn’t do.”


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