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Fuel for immigration debate

Times Staff Writer

Guatemalan immigrant Diego Cap, one of several hundred day laborers who look for work each day along a stretch of Oxnard Street in Van Nuys, said the proposed changes to Special Order 40 would only make people even more afraid to talk to police.

“If we have a problem, we’re not going to call” police, said Cap, 50.

Joel Mazariagos, another day laborer, said the controversy surrounding Special Order 40 made him and other immigrants uneasy. He said there is already a strong fear of deportation among day laborers and talking to police about anything can be unnerving.

“I feel bad about it. We should all be brothers,” said Mazariagos, 30, who emigrated from Guatemala five years ago. “I don’t feel like a criminal, but the laws make me feel like one.”

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Pointing to the scattered groups of laborers standing along the street, he said that if police were allowed to randomly question people on the streets about their immigration status, immigrants would be afraid to openly look for work.

“Everyone would leave,” he said.

Antonio Bernabe, an organizer with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, walks Oxnard Street each day, handing out fliers informing laborers of their rights when looking for work or if stopped by police.

He said he has been trying to increase communication between police and day laborers and now holds monthly meetings between immigrants and the area’s senior lead officers.

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As part of a pilot project, Bernabe also issues immigrant workers a blue-and-white identification card to show to authorities.

“When [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] comes to the corner, they’ve got to have an ID,” Bernabe said.

He said the proposed changes to Special Order 40 would only erode the already fragile relationship between police and immigrants.

He said the real crime would be that day laborers along Oxnard Street would seldom be able to find work for a living wage. “These people are desperate to work,” Bernabe said.

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Cap said the proposed changes have profound implications and are part of a larger move to further criminalize illegal immigrants.

“We’ll have to rally May 1,” he said.

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ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

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