Citizens Sparked Dayworker Arrests, City Says

Times Staff Writer

Orange city officials Monday defended the arrests last week of day laborers outside a Home Depot store, saying police need to respond to citizen complaints about loitering.

Although both immigrants rights advocates and foes of illegal immigrants agreed that the arrests were unusual, city officials said they were nothing new.

They said police had previously arrested day laborers for violating a municipal code that banned soliciting work outside.

“This is not a first and won’t be a last,” said Mayor Mark A. Murphy. “This is simply a situation where we responded to concerns in the community.”

In 2005, the Orange Police Department received 338 citizens’ complaints regarding dayworkers, Sgt. Dave Hill said, not including those received through informal police contacts or calls to the mayor’s hotline.


On eight separate “enforcement days” since August, he said, police have arrested 84 people for violating the municipal code against work solicitation, all but four of whom were turned over to the U.S. Border Patrol in San Clemente.

Councilwoman Carolyn Cavecche said several residents complained at a recent council meeting about being accosted and heckled by day laborers.

“The taxpayers in Orange want us to do this,” she said. “We are inundated with complaints.”

More than two dozen men who regularly wait in front of the Home Depot on Katella Avenue looking for odd jobs ran when police arrived Friday morning.

Nine were arrested, and one who showed a California identification card was released.

The remaining eight without proof of residency were sent to a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint in San Clemente for possible deportation.

Immigrants rights advocates criticized the practice of taking suspects to the Border Patrol.

They say it can encourage racial profiling and can violate immigrants’ rights because they don’t have the ability to fight what may be an unlawful arrest.

“This is ugly. It’s terrible,” said Amin David, who heads the civil group Los Amigos of Orange County. David is organizing a committee to discuss the matter with city officials and to get information to day laborers about their rights.

Hill said his department and Home Depot had long discussed how to handle the dozens of dayworkers in front of the store each day.

Home Depot spokeswoman Kathryn Gallagher acknowledged those meetings but said store employees “did nothing to activate the arrests” Friday.

City Atty. David A. DeBerry said police would pursue day laborers on private property where signs were posted that prohibit soliciting.

The police will not enforce part of the municipal code that refers to soliciting on public property because similar laws have been challenged in other cities, he said.

Only a handful of laborers stood in front of the Home Depot on Monday.

The laborer who had been released Friday, Leo Donati, said he was afraid to return.

On Monday morning, six men in front of the store said a Home Depot employee had asked them to stay out of the parking lot and they had -- hoping instead to find work from the sidewalk.

Julio Jimenez, 31, said he was there because he made more money as a day laborer in the United States than he did in Mexico.

In his native Puebla state, he said, he earned $100 a week changing tires. In the last six weeks, he said he has made more than $300 a week roofing homes and gardening for about $10 an hour.

“I’m scared to be out here today because of what happened,” Jimenez said. “But I’m out here because of need. I want to be a help to this city, not a burden. I want to work.”