Column: Waving While Latino Might Get You Ticketed in Oyster Bay (LongIslandWins.com)
By Samantha Fredrickson
Imagine being stopped by police and fined $250 for waving your arms on the sidewalk. It could happen in Oyster Bay.
Last month, the Oyster Bay Town Board enacted a local ordinance making it a crime to stand on a public sidewalk and solicit employment. The law targets day laborers, who are often Latino immigrants, but it affects all of us.
The New York Civil Liberties Union testified against the ordinance at a May hearing, arguing that it would violate the First Amendment right to free speech and the Fourteenth Amendment right to equal treatment under the law.
The Town Board passed it anyway, stating in the law that its intent is to “protect the health, safety and welfare of motorists and pedestrians.”
This misguided ordinance protects no one’s safety or welfare. It uses safety as a smokescreen to unfairly crack down on immigrants who are simply trying to support their families. Rightfully dubbed an attempt to criminalize “Standing While Latino,” the law violates core constitutional rights of all Oyster Bay residents, immigrant or more established.
It criminalizes an extremely broad range of activity, including “waving arms, making hand signals, shouting to someone in a vehicle, jumping up and down and waving signs soliciting employment,” subjecting violators to a $250 fine.
One must ask whether this ordinance will be equally enforced. Clearly, it will be imposed on day laborers. Will Girl Scouts be stopped from selling cookies on the sidewalk - an activity that falls within the ordinance’s restrictions? How about a local Little League team holding a carwash on a street corner to raise money for an out-of-state tournament? Will the kids be ticketed and fined for violating the law?
Many of the rights embodied in the Constitution apply to everyone regardless of nationality or immigration status, including the right to be treated equally under the law. If authorities only enforce the ordinance against day laborers, they will violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.
Of course, the law violates the First Amendment rights of all of us regardless of how it’s enforced. It not only prohibits protected speech, but it also will prevent people from exercising their free speech rights out of fear of being punished.
Beyond these constitutional issues, it is simply unfair and cruel to forbid people from seeking employment to support themselves and their families. That’s not what America is about.
The passage of this ordinance was a sad occasion for Oyster Bay and for Nassau County. Residents should call on the local elected leaders to show that they respect our rights and rescind this discriminatory, unconstitutional legislation.
Samantha Fredrickson is the director of the Nassau County Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union.