ASK THE TIMES: What is City’s Plan on Day Laborers?
By STEPHEN SIEGEL
Falls Church Times Staff
August 20, 2012
Times reader Mel Watson asked August 18 if the City has “any plan for dealing with the increasing number of those looking for day work who assemble on Broad Street in front of the U-Haul and Staples stores?”
The short answer is that the day laborers are legally allowed to congregate on any public spaces, including the sidewalk, as long as they don’t harass people or block access.
“Under federal Constitutional law, the City cannot enact or enforce no-loitering laws that prohibit standing on a public sidewalk or right of way,” said City Spokeswoman Susan Finarelli. “If anyone is breaking existing laws relating to obstructing passages or public intoxication, for example, they could face charges.”
However, the laborers frequently loiter on private property as well — primarily the U-Haul property, but also the parking lot in front of the Staples store; that property is owned by the big mall operator Federal Realty Investment Trust.
Falls Church City Police told the Times they won’t enforce trespassing laws against day laborers just on sight; the business must call police first. Officials say 11 laborers have been “banned” from various properties by police in the last two years. Violating a banning order would lead to more severe sanctions. “If the subject returns after they have been banned, they are then subject to arrest,” Ms. Finarelli said.
Some of the businesses have been aggressive in trying to stop the day laborers from loitering on or in front of their properties. A U-Haul employee told a reporter they added anti-loitering signs, have called police, and also have cameras monitoring their parking lot. But he said it’s a constant problem there and at other U-Haul locations as well, including one in Bailey’s Crossroads.
Asked if Federal Realty had a policy or statement on the day laborers, Andrea Simpson, a Boston-based spokeswoman for the company, promised to inquire for the Times. A day later, she kindly wrote via email that “I wanted to check in to let you know that I have not forgotten you.” That was on March 7. Ms. Simpson has not returned repeated phone and email messages since then.
Opinions on the day laborers are mixed. Many have asked if their loitering is legal. Some say they don’t have a problem with them being there and looking for work. Others object and assume at least some are illegally in the country. Still others suggest their behavior has been inappropriate and harrassing, such as a person who posted a comment on the same Times story as Mr. Watson, but without giving a name or a real email address.
For its part, the city says it has received no complaints about day laborer harrassment or sidewalk obstruction.
By Stephen Siegel
August 20, 2012