On Feb. 2, MALDEF, the ACLU of Southern California and the National Day Laborer’s Organizing Network (NDLON) announced a lawsuit challenging the City of Costa Mesa’s anti-solicitation ordinance as unconstitutional.

The civil rights groups filed the lawsuit against the City of Costa Mesa on behalf of the Asociacion de Jornaleros de Costa Mesa and the Colectivo Tonantzin, whose members have been restricted from peaceably expressing their need and availability for employment in the city’s public areas due to the ordinance.

MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz said, “Free speech, one of our most cherished rights, belongs to everyone in society. Day laborers seeking work have as much right to express themselves as the largest corporation employing hundreds of thousands. Costa Mesa’s anti-solicitation ordinance violates this vital and longstanding constitutional principle.”

The city’s anti-solicitation ordinance prohibits any person standing on a sidewalk or other public area from soliciting employment, business or contributions in any manner deemed to be intended to attract the attention of traveling vehicles. The ordinance subjects day laborers and other solicitors to a fine of $1,000 and imprisonment up to six months. The ordinance violates the day laborers’ First and Fourteenth amendments rights under the United States Constitution.

“This ordinance is simply illegal. Not only does it discriminate against day laborers but it prohibits protected speech. It’s so sweeping that it bans school children from holding car wash signs on the street or could prevent struggling businesses from using sign spinners,” said Belinda Escobosa Helzer, staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California.

Federal courts throughout the country have consistently stricken down anti-solicitation ordinances, and have ruled in favor of preserving the free speech rights of day laborers, which allows them to continue to solicit work and provide for their families.

“Day laborers have contributed to the Costa Mesa economy for decades,” said Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. He continued, “Particularly during these tough times, the hard work they provide the community should be rewarded and not the target of destructive law enforcement practices.”

The plaintiffs, Asociacion de Jornaleros de Costa Mesa and the Colectivo Tonantzin, are represented by attorneys Saenz and Gladys Limon of MALDEF, and Escobosa Helzer, Hector O. Villagra and Peter J. Eliasberg of the ACLU of Southern California. They are joined by co-counsel, Chris Newman of NDLON.

The ACLU of Southern California is the Southland's premier defender of civil liberties and civil rights. Founded in 1923, we defend freedom and the constitutional rights of all through lobbying, litigation and education.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the “law firm of the Latino community,” MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. Click here for more information on MALDEF.