Article Last Updated: 1/25/2006 06:41 PM

Crackdown on illegals set
City focuses on loitering
By Judy O'Rourke, Staff Writer
LA Daily News

SANTA CLARITA - The city attorney will pursue vigorous enforcement of laws that prohibit hiring day laborers who are illegal immigrants, a hot-button issue in the news that has been seized upon by Councilman Cameron Smyth as he seeks state office.
In response to Smyth's proposal Tuesday seeking a crackdown on lawbreakers - be they laborers or those who hire them - the attorney will research and submit a confidential report to the Santa Clarita City Council outlining the city's options. While the laborers will be in the bull's-eye, the city will be careful not to violate their rights, City Attorney Carl Newton said.

"Enforcement of those provisions of law will be applied to all persons," Newton said. "We're not going to discriminate against persons suspected of violations of loitering or trespassing."

The report will explore whether the city's trespassing and anti-loitering ordinances can be "more fully" enforced. It will also explain how city contracts could be amended with a proviso requiring vendors to certify they do not employ undocumented aliens. Spot checks could be performed by the city's code enforcement officers.

In response to Smyth's suggestion, Newton said he will contact his counterpart at the city of Costa Mesa to learn how that city checks the legal residency status of suspects arrested by police.

While Costa Mesa is moving forward on the matter, the city has not yet signed a contract with a federal agency that would permit police officers to enforce federal immigration law. Costa Mesa City Attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow said the city is attempting to sew up a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an investigative branch of the Department of Homeland Security.

If the contract is adopted, the city's Police Department could train officers in understanding and implementing federal laws as they apply to suspected felons who have been arrested, Barlow said.

"We're working with the county (of Orange) to see if the kinds of training (that would need to be done) can be done," Barlow said.

A nonprofit group that advocates for the human and civil rights of immigrants and refugees says that hiring centers - community-approved locations where day laborers congregate - serve a useful purpose and benefit the entire community.

"Day laborer centers regularize a secure place to look for work," said Alvaro Huerta, a spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. He said the largely unskilled pool of workers fulfill an important void in the labor force, performing construction and gardening work. He said the workers, who tend to live in the communities they seek work in, are trying to provide for their families the only way they can.

"What's kind of fundamentally flawed in approach in Costa Mesa is, instead of trying to integrate people who are part of community, they are creating this 'other people, not us,"' he said. "These cities are kind of riding the politics of this anti-immigrant scapegoating instead of coming up with good policy. It seems to be poor politics instead of good policy."

The organization does not discriminate against illegal workers, who it says would relish obtaining the much-coveted legal status if they could.

Despite the ordinances on Santa Clarita's books, the Sheriff's Department steers clear of collaring day laborers if they are not suspected of committing a crime, an official said. "If there's a problem, a safety hazard, blocking traffic, graffiti vandalism that is enforceable," said Sgt. Bill Weiss, who cited the court's questioning of the constitutionality of enforcing the loitering ordinances. "Pending all those reviews, (the ordinances) are viewed as unconstitutional, not to be enforced."

Last January, the council considered opening a hiring center and curtailing day laborers' roadside solicitations with the adoption of an ordinance. The concept was mothballed pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed against the city of Glendale by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, for Glendale's similar efforts.

In May, a federal court squelched Glendale's ordinance prohibiting day laborers from seeking work on street corners. The hiring center in Glendale, located across the street from a Home Depot, has since been opened. It was the site of recent protests that have galvanized groups who oppose illegal immigration. Newton expects to submit the report to the council its the Feb. 14 meeting.

Judy O'Rourke, (661) 257-5255