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Finger in the Dike

April 07, 1985

The city of Orange is a lot like the boy with his finger in the dike trying to hold back the flood. It can keep passing all kinds of questionable and harassing laws to discourage the sidewalk gatherings of workers hired at curbside by eager employers looking for cheap labor, but the results are bound to be the same. The workers, and employers, will keep coming. And If they can't do business on one street corner, eventually they will find another.

One short-term solution could be to to find a street corner that could accommodate the workers, the employers and the community. That would take a spirit of compromise and cooperation that everyone ought to be willing to provide but that so far seems to be sorely missing in Orange.

The city seems to have taken a get-tough attitude. It formed a community task force late last year to study the problem, but before a successful plan could be worked out it called in the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to make neighborhood sweeps.

In February, Orange passed an ordinance aimed at the workers, most of whom are in the country illegally. The ordinance permits citizens to warn "trespassers" and then arrest them 24 hours later. The law discriminates against Latinos, and is no doubt unconstitutional.

Last month the city went after the employers who cruise the street looking for workers. It made the area where workers muster for jobs a "no-stopping" zone.

The workers haven't been cooperating, either. Fearful that they will miss being hired because employers won't know where they are, they have refused suggestions to move to a library, a park and then a community center. And now they are resisting efforts to relocate to the La Purisima Catholic Church, about three blocks away, where they would be welcome.

Latino leaders should encourage the move. Signs and people giving directions to the new location should be left behind for several weeks until most employers know about the new and agreed-on pickup point.

Orange is not the only community in the county that is wrestling with undocumented workers. Costa Mesa had a similar situation last year. It, too, called for the INS to sweep the area and pick up illegal immigrants. But we hear that they are back doing business in the same neighborhood.

We have sympathy for the workers. They are lured here by the economy and the opportunity that they see within their grasp--just across the border. They are industrious. They seek no handouts. They want to find work so that they can be self-sufficient and able to support themselves and their families. Those are attributes that Americans have always admired and encouraged.

Immigration issues are too complex for cities to deal with. They are national issues, best handled in Washington. The proper role for cities is one of benign toleration.

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