ACLU of New Jersey Challenges Arbitrary Police Fees for March
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and the Farmworkers’ Support Committee today filed a lawsuit in federal district court against the city of Bridgeton for charging a fee of more than $1,500 for an immigrant rights March held on May 1.
“This fee amounts to a user’s tax on free speech and that is unconstitutional,” said Frank Corrado, who on behalf of the ACLU-NJ is the volunteer attorney for the Farmworkers’ Support Committee, also known as El Comité de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agricolas or CATA. “Bridgeton is responsible for providing police and other government services for all forms of use of its public streets, including marches or parades. Imposition of these fees will mean that only the wealthy will be afforded the right to speak out on issues, and our Constitution thankfully forbids that.”
This year, as last year, CATA held an immigrant rights March on May 1 in Bridgeton to express support for immigration reform.
In 2006, CATA’s was not charged any police or cleanup fees for the march. As it did in 2006, CATA this year applied for a permit and worked with the police and the city to determine the route. Both years, the march occurred without incident.
However, this year Bridgeton demanded a $1,800 police fee and a $200 cleanup deposit. After negotiations between CATA and Bridgeton, the city agreed to drop its requirement that fees be paid prior to the march but added that it would bill CATA after the march.
Several weeks after the May 1 march, CATA received a letter from the city requesting payment for “additional” police expenses for the event, amounting to more than $1,500. CATA requested that the fees be withdrawn, but in a June 12, 2007 letter responding to the group, the city said that it would pursue its demand for the payment and, moreover, would continue to seek such reimbursement in the future.
“I don’t see the logic the city of Bridgeton is using in prohibiting our rights to free expression that we all have living in this great country,” said Mariza Ibarra, CATA board member and Bridgeton resident. “We are a vulnerable part of the population and we are only struggling to obtain dignity in this community and country.”
In its legal complaint, the ACLU-NJ said Bridgeton officials exercised “unfettered, arbitrary discretion” in billing CATA for police expenses, since the city does not have an ordinance that authorizes it to impose fees for marches or parades.
CATA originated in 1975 as the ACLU-NJ Farmworkers’ Project. CATA later reorganized independently as a migrant worker-organized membership organization that advocates for the human rights of migrant and immigrant workers. CATA has extensive membership throughout South Jersey and a committee of active leaders in Bridgeton that has organized both May 1 marches, as well as other activities in the community.
The lawsuit, CATA v. Bridgeton, was filed in U.S. District Court in Camden.
The complaint is available online at:
More information on CATA is available online at:
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