ACLU Sues to Stop Vista Day Labor Ordinance

SAN DIEGO – The American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego & Imperial Counties and California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. filed a complaint yesterday in U.S. District Court to enjoin the city of Vista from implementing a controversial ordinance requiring any employer hiring a day laborer to register with the city in advance. The suit is filed on behalf of an employer who has hired day laborers in the city of Vista and two day laborers.

The lawsuit argues that the ordinance clearly violates the First Amendment because it sets no effective time limit for issuing the required permit, leaving complete discretion to the city. It also contends that the ordinance is an invalid restriction on commercial speech, because while the purported goal of the ordinance is to protect day laborers, it does not establish the means to do so.

The ordinance imposes an invalid prior restraint on freedom of speech by requiring employers to obtain a permit before engaging in lawful speech, the lawsuit claims. “The city is talking out of both sides of its mouth by claiming to protect day laborers while driving employers away,” said the ACLU’s legal director, David Blair-Loy.

The suit also argues that the ordinance violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because a motivating factor in passing the ordinance was unlawful discrimination, even though the city council claimed to act with the intention of protecting day laborers. “The history of this ordinance, and statements by members of the Vista City Council, show that racial and ethnic discrimination and immigration status played a substantial role,” Blair-Loy said. “The ordinance does not serve the need they purport to address.”

One of the city council members himself declared that “it would be disingenuous” to assert that this ordinance had been created entirely with the intention of protecting day laborers.

Under the ordinance, employers who seek to provide work for day laborers would first need to obtain a registration certificate, attach it to the passenger-side window of any vehicle used to transport day laborers, provide a term sheet detailing hours and wages, and present all records for inspection by the city attorney, county sheriffs and deputies, and code enforcement officers upon request. There is no effective time limit set for the issuance of the required permits, because the ordinance leaves total discretion to city officials on when to deem an application “complete.” It also does not require the certificate or term sheet to be written in any language other than English.

The ordinance is slated to go into effect on July 28, 2006.