A federal judge today issued an extraordinary order barring enforcement of an Oyster Bay ordinance that violates day laborers’ core constitutional right to free speech. As a result of the order, day laborers whose livelihoods were threatened because of the ordinance can exercise their First Amendment rights and go back to work immediately without being ticketed or fined.
“This ruling is a great victory for the First Amendment and for the day laborers who can now go back to work and support their families,” said Samantha Fredrickson, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Nassau County Chapter.
The ruling follows a lawsuit filed on May 18 on behalf of Centro de la Comunidad Hispana de Locust Valley and the Workplace Project by the NYCLU, American Civil Liberties Union and LatinoJustice PRLDEF. It challenges an ordinance enacted in September 2009 that prohibits standing on the sidewalk to solicit employment and bars motorists from stopping to solicit employment or hire workers. The Oyster Bay law, enacted in September 2009 purportedly to address traffic and pedestrian safety, criminalizes a wide variety of constitutionally protected speech that presents no threat to traffic safety, including, for example, students soliciting cars for a high school carwash fundraiser.
Today’s ruling is a preliminary assessment that the law is likely to be found unconstitutional and that the right to free speech should be protected while the court further considers the matter. The court will consider the matter next at a hearing on May 28 at which it will examine whether or not to grant a preliminary injunction further prohibiting enforcement of the law.
“Day laborers are hardworking people and provide a valuable service to this community that we are all part of,” said Cesar Perales, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “This law is a clear violation of their First Amendment rights.”
For nearly two decades, day laborers have gathered in Oyster Bay, particularly the Hamlet of Locust Valley and the Village of Farmingdale, to find work. Since passing the ordinance, the Town has stationed law enforcement officers at a corner at which workers and contractors typically meet, keeping contractors away from the site and intimidating workers seeking employment. The ordinance has had a devastating effect on the workers, who typically depend on these jobs to feed themselves and their families, and frequently lack transportation to seek work elsewhere.
Local lawmakers and police officials have never explained why current road safety laws – such as New York State’s vehicle and traffic laws – are inadequate to protect motorists or pedestrians. At the public hearing, no resident or Oyster Bay Town Board member indicated that a single traffic accident had occurred as a result of a day laborer soliciting work. The legislative record on the ordinance contains no evidence that the presence of day laborers causes traffic problems.
“Local attempts to regulate immigration by passing ordinances that restrict free speech are unconstitutional, ineffective, and only drain state and local budgets while hurting workers and local businesses,” said Farrin Anello, an attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Standing on the sidewalk to let people know that you are available for work is not a crime. The Constitution protects all people in this country, regardless of their background.”
Lawyers on the case are Corey Stoughton, Adriana Piñón and Arthur Eisenberg for the NYCLU; Alan Levine and Christina Iturralde for PRLDEF; and Lee Gelernt and Farrin Anello for the ACLU.