Give It Arrest

The ACLU claims Dade County is using a temporary employment law to keep Hispanic day laborers off the job and in jail

But to Kayton, economics is peripheral. "[The ordinance] violates the First Amendment because it punishes free speech -- asking for a job," Kayton says. "We also have a bunch of discrimination claims; it appears this law has been applied exclusively to males of Hispanic origin. We have the arrest records, and every person arrested has a Hispanic surname."

In Candelario's case, 29 other men were arrested with him; most of the cases were eventually thrown out, according to Glantz. Three are still pending. The chief of misdemeanor prosecutions for the Dade State Attorney's Office, Gaston Cantens, says he can't comment on whether, or why, an exceptionally high percentage of charges under that ordinance is dropped, because there are cases pending.

The Metro-Dade police legal bureau did have a few words of caution about the enforceability of the law before it was approved by the commission. A memo from police legal bureau chief Maj. George Aylesworth to Metro-Dade Police Department Director Fred Taylor points out that the ordinance could be effectively enforced only by undercover police officers, and that the loitering prohibition would outlaw even innocuous public gatherings of job seekers. "For example," the memo reads, "there are occasional instances in which employers publish a need for temporary help, such as when the entertainment industry is advertising locally for extras, and many people arrive early and wait outside of the announced location."

Efforts by the police, though, haven't altogether stopped people from collecting on the same street corners. "It's a problem; it's bad for business," laments Tony Saladrigas, owner of Center Auto Parts in the 7400 block of SW Eighth Street. "But there are fewer men waiting around now; it's 30, not 300. And there are definitely fewer people coming to pick them up." Saladrigas acknowledges he's called police on occasion to disperse loiterers, although he denies being the man who, according to many workers who gather near Saladrigas's shop, almost daily rigs a high-power water sprinkler on the roof of the two-story building between 74th and 75th avenues to rain on the men gathered below. Not all merchants along that stretch seem bothered by the job seekers, though; owners of two nearby cafes say they can always see the men hanging around but the laborers don't cause problems for them or their customers.

"We have the right to try to work," insists one young man from Honduras who doesn't want his name published. "But undocumented people like us who don't have work permits, we have to stand out here; we can't go to employment agencies. What we really need is just a place, a secure place with bathrooms, where we can eat, where we can get work without being hassled."

"A few years ago, some high-ranking police officers, some people from the county government, representatives from the Hispanic community, came here and met with us," recalls Jose Rivas, a legal resident from Nicaragua. "We said we're here, we're sober, we're available for any kind of work. They promised to help us." As Rivas is speaking, a pick-up truck drives by and several men motion and whistle in unison. The truck slows as Rivas continues: "But naturally the county commission wants to please the business people around here, so they send the police out. Dicen que estamos contaminando el ambiente. (They say we're contaminating the environment.)

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