Every time I think anti-immigrant weasels have run out of ways to discriminate against immigrants, a gem of a news item comes along to slap me in the face. Like this one, out of Oyster Bay in New York’s Nassau County. Back in September, the town of 300,000 passed legislation that forbade day laborers from soliciting work by doing so much as make eye contact with potential employers. The official ordinance, passed by the Town Board on Sept. 29, 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.
A day laborer found guilty of this "crime" would have to pay a $250 fine. And as the NY Times reports, this totally inane policy is only the latest in a string of anti-immigrant policies passed by the town. Oyster Bay has also tried the familiar classics of employer sanctions and anti-loitering ordinances, and passed a bill that punished landlords found renting to immigrants. This time around, the townspeople claimed that the two central street corners where people coalesced to offer and agree to work were overwhelmed by sometimes 80 people on a given morning. The numbers of day laborers became, as one person called it, a "public safety" issue. Yeah right. The likely story? Instead of working to find workable solutions (like, say, organizing an alternative space for day laborers and potential employers to interact), the town, reacting on knee jerk nativism, decided to criminalize immigrants seeking work. Immigrants and advocates are not giving up without a fight though. They organized a protest recently. The Times interviewed Stan Spiegelman, a longtime Oyster Bay resident to ask him why he was there, and its his response that makes me feel like common sense and justice will someday prevail.
“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.”