Day laborers carrying protest signs marched on Redondo Beach City Hall on Wednesday after filing a federal lawsuit seeking to stop enforcement of an ordinance against soliciting jobs on the streets.
"The ordinance is an unconstitutional violation of free speech," said Thomas Saenz, an attorney suing on behalf of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, a Los Angeles-based group. "In general, what motivates this kind of law is anti-immigrant sentiment."
As lawsuit papers were served on city officials, about 75 peaceful protesters demanded police stop arresting and allegedly harassing day laborers who gather daily at two locations on Inglewood Avenue.
City Atty. Jerry Goddard denied that prejudice motivated the city's crackdown, saying it began two months ago because of resident complaints and safety concerns.
"We disagree that any constitutional rights are being violated," he said. Police will continue to aggressively enforce the ordinance, he said.
The Redondo Beach ordinance was passed in 1987.
While at least 50 other cities in California have almost identical ordinances, Saenz said, Redondo Beach has taken the unusual step in the last two months of conducting several undercover stings resulting in about 150 arrests.
"That is why they're on our radar," he said. "They're having police officers pose as employers, enticing day laborers into vehicles. It's like a prostitution sting."
City officials said increasing complaints that day laborers were harassing people, drinking and urinating in public prompted the sweeps. Merchants also complained that the groups of men scared away customers who didn't want to drive past them into parking lots.
In October, during the most recent sweep, officers made 58 arrests in three days at the two intersections. Most detentions arose from the anti-solicitation law, but several people had warrants for other crimes.
Court decisions have not resolved the legality of restricting day laborers seeking work, attorneys said. "We don't have a federal court decision which would settle it for all time," said Saenz, staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which filed the suit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles in hopes of obtaining that precedent.
Both sides said the solution for Redondo Beach and other cities was to establish hiring halls.