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No Joke: Nassau County Town Outlaws "Waving While Latino"

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January 6, 2010

A number of suburban communities across the United States have violated the free speech rights of all by passing discriminatory anti-solicitation ordinances targeting day laborers. The latest town to do so is Oyster Bay in New York's Nassau County. Oyster Bay has two significant streetside hiring spots where day laborers congregate every morning in hopes of finding work. Back in September, under the guise of public safety, the town council passed an ordinance completely banning public job solicitation. The ordinance states:

Examples of behavior which constitute solicitation of employment include but are not limited to waving arms, making hand signals, shouting to someone in a vehicle, jumping up and down, waving signs soliciting employment pointed at persons in vehicles, approaching vehicles, standing in the public right-of-way while facing vehicles in the roadway or entering the roadway portion of a public right-of-way for the purpose of seeking employment.

This means that even waving one’s hand is punishable under this ordinance, an “offense” resulting in a $250 fine!

The First Amendment protects the free speech rights of all persons, not just U.S. citizens. By unfairly targeting day laborers, who are often Latino immigrants, this law breaches everyone's constitutional rights to free speech and equal treatment under the law.

On December 15, a group of organizations including the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) protested the ordinance in front of Oyster Bay's Town Hall. The New York Times reported:

One elderly protester, Stan Spiegelman, said he had lived in the hamlet of Oyster Bay since 1993. “It’s my job to fire up the menorah every night,” he said, leaning heavily on his walker. “But I’m here now for a different reason; in a democracy we need to protect the minority and the have-nots.”

NYCLU testified against the ordinance before its passage last year. You can read their testimony here (PDF), and see pictures of the December 15 rally here.

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