City Requires Registration Before Hiring Day Laborers

The city of Vista near San Diego is trying a novel way to control the number of day laborers who congregate in shopping centers and on street corners, looking for work. Individuals who want to hire these workers are being required to register first with the city.

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Here in Southern California, hiring a day laborer in the city of Vista may soon get a little more complicated.

Starting tomorrow, would-be employers are supposed to register with City Hall before picking up a casual worker to cut their grass or do other odd jobs.

Cities elsewhere that have tried to crack down on day laborers have sometimes run afoul of the courts. But Vista's approach is unusual, because it targets employers rather than workers.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY reporting:

At a shopping center in the middle of Vista, you can buy groceries, pick up your dry cleaning, or hire a Mexican laborer for $8 to $10 an hour.

Andres Cervantes(ph) is one of a dozen men who stand under shade trees or the awning of a discount store, waiting to be hired. With his calloused hands and sturdy work boots, Cervantes is ready for almost any sort of job.

Mr. ANDRES CERVANTES (Day Laborer): (Foreign spoken)

HORSLEY: Over the last five years, Cervantes says, he's worked construction, trimmed trees, painted houses, whatever an employer wants for a day's pay. Lately, though, jobs have been scarce. Some of the laborers blame the self-styled Minutemen who've taken to patrolling this parking lot and discouraging residents from hiring illegal immigrants. Cervantes admits, he's in this country illegally, but he says he's just trying to support his wife and two children back home in Mexico.

Mr. CERVANTES: (Through translator) I don't know what the Minutemen's problem is. Why do they say we're affecting them? We're not taking bread out of their mouths? We're not drug traffickers. We're honest, hardworking Mexicans.

HORSLEY: Nevertheless, the Minutemen may have an ally now in the city government of Vista, located just north of San Diego, less than 60 miles from the Mexican border.

Mindful that other cities have run into legal trouble when they tried to restrict day laborers, city attorney Darold Pieper came up with a novel approach that purports to protect the laborers from unscrupulous employers.

Vista passed an ordinance saying anyone who wants to hire a day laborer from a location like the shopping center, first has to register with the city and provide a terms sheet with details of the job and the rate of pay. Pieper says would-be employers must display the registration in their car window where a sheriff's deputy can see it.

Mr. DAROLD PIEPER (City Attorney, Vista, California): This ordinance is designed to make sure that the kind of abuses that day laborers are suffering throughout the United States - and it's a nationwide problem - are not visited on them in the city of Vista.

HORSLEY: Some day laborers think the law could come in handy in the rare cases in which employers don't pay them. But others worry the measure will just make it even harder for them to find jobs. Attorney David Blair-Loy, of the American Civil Liberties Union, suspects that's what backers really have in mind.

Mr. DAVID BLAIR-LOY (Attorney, American Civil Liberties Union): Part of it is simply trying to make it so inconvenient that employers will just abandon the market. You have to go down to city hall, you have to get the permit, you have to fill out the terms sheet. And some people just say I don't want to do this just to get somebody to, you know, mow my lawn, or tear down some drywall. Forget it. It's too much hassle.

HORSLEY: The ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging Vista's ordinance. Blair-Loy says it's an unconstitutional restriction of employers' free speech rights, and that it discriminates against Vista's fast-growing Latino population.

Mr. BLAIR-LOY: I don't know what to call that except racism.

HORSLEY: Demographics have amplified this debate. Latinos made up just a quarter of Vista's population in 1990. By the end of the decade, they'll outnumber whites.

All over the country, cities and states are wrestling with immigration related issues as the debate over federal policy drags on. A ruling on the ACLU's lawsuit is expected this week.

One day laborer says he'll respect whatever conditions are imposed. More than anything, he says, we're here to work and contribute to the city.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, San Diego.

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MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DON GONYEA, host:

And I'm Don Gonyea.

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