Los Angeles Demands Private Businesses Assist Day Laborers

By Jon Feere on August 27, 2008

The Los Angeles City Council has recently approved an ordinance that requires all new home improvement stores in their jurisdiction to construct day laborer centers on their private property as a prerequisite for a business license. The stores will be required to provide shelter, drinking water, bathrooms, and trash cans for any and all day laborers who happen upon the company’s property. The city reasons that day laborers are causing too many problems along the streets and, since home improvement stores have become the favorite hangout of day laborers, the private businesses should be the ones to deal with it. Problems often associated with day laborers include the “swarming” of vehicles in the middle of roadways as the laborers seek work, public urination, public drunkenness, the antagonizing of patrons (e.g. catcalls), and basic loitering. The author of the ordinance describes these as “public safety and quality of life issues.”

Of course, the whole point of a day laborer center is to match employers with laborers. The main problem is that the overwhelming majority of day laborers are illegal aliens who, obviously, are barred from employment by nature of their immigration status. By passing this ordinance, private companies wishing to do business in Los Angeles – like Home Depot – are effectively being thrust into the immigration debate and forced into potential liability. Aiding and abetting the harboring of an illegal alien and facilitating the hiring of an illegal alien is actionable, depending upon the circumstances. And considering public opinion on illegal immigration, a business likely doesn’t want to give customers the impression that it is encouraging the employment of illegal aliens.

I know personally that attorneys for Home Depot have visited Capitol Hill on at least one occasion to speak with pro-enforcement staff attorneys in the House of Representatives. Home Depot was simply looking for a way to avoid being swept up in the immigration debate. Now, it seems their only option is to sue the City of Los Angeles.

It will be interesting to watch how this all plays out. If a private company forced to build a day laborer hangout protects itself by allowing only legally-employable day laborers to use the center, the overwhelming majority of day laborers will be back out on the streets causing the very problems for which the legislation was passed in the first place. Perhaps the City of Los Angeles will then finally accept the fact that it is the city – not private businesses – which must solve the illegal immigration problem. The city can start with ending its illegal alien sanctuary policy.

Interestingly, last year’s failed immigration bill included a debate about a provision that would have prohibited state and local governments from requiring home improvement stores to build day labor centers. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office often sides against state and local enforcement of immigration laws by advancing the intellectually dishonest “immigration is a federal issue” argument. Of course, the mayor’s office opposed the proposed federal provision with the following argument: “This is quintessentially a local decision. There is no reason for the federal government to intervene.” Seems you can have it both ways.