ON the edge of a well-known beach here, several dozen immigrants
gather each morning in hopes of finding work for the day. They sip
coffee, eat bread with jam, and play soccer while waiting for an
employer to stop and offer a job mowing lawns, pruning bushes, or
When one does, the worker is chosen by lottery. It is all neat
and orderly, which it is supposed to be, since this is an attempt by
local residents to keep day laborers in this tony beach community
from lunging at BMWs along Pacific Coast Highway and get them to
wait instead for jobs at one site.
It is also controversial. Some of the day laborers are illegal
immigrants, and critics say a community, or in this case private
citizens, should not be helping illegal aliens get jobs.
Across southern California, and in some other parts of the
country, these and other questions are being raised as communities
seek new ways to cope with the growing problem of street corner
Some of the controversy stems from communities like Malibu and
Los Angeles that have set up centers where day laborers are
encouraged to congregate regardless of their legal status.
Other towns are drawing criticism for taking the opposite
approach. They are prohibiting street solicitation and setting up
hiring sites where only legal residents are welcome - a move
opponents consider callous and unconstitutional.
The dispute over day laborers reflects all the complexities and
conflict of a nation trying to seize control of its borders while
seeking to accommodate growing numbers of immigrants.
"Every community has got to come to the realization it is going
to have to deal with the situation," says Maggie Vogler, a volunteer
at the hiring site in this celebrity-studded community. "We think
this is the most humane way."
"That's crazy," says Mayor Don Smith of Orange, a town in Orange
County, of the Malibu and Los Angeles approach. Orange last month
opened a site for legal day laborers. "We don't want to put
legitimate people out of work." The number of day laborers is
growing. Authorities attribute the rise to the continuing flow of
aliens across the US-Mexican border, general unemployment, and the
landmark immigration law passed in 1986.
Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officials say some
of the day laborers are illegal aliens who couldn't find normal work
because of the provision penalizing employers who hire undocumented
immigrants - evidence, they contend, that the law is working.
But immigrant-rights groups say the workers will not go home and
are being pushed further underground. …