Town Council is scheduled to revisit controversial measure aimed at preventing Latino day laborers from soliciting for work opportunities.Herndon, VA—The ACLU of Virginia today asked the Herndon Town Council to repeal, or at least significantly amend, an ordinance that restricts the right of day laborers to seek employment opportunities from motorists. Council members are expected to address the ordinance at a meeting scheduled for February 8.
The ACLU opposed the Street Solicitations Ordinance before and after it was passed last summer, pointing out that it infringed on the First Amendment guarantee of free speech and that it appeared to target Herndon’s mostly Latino day labor population.
The Virginia civil liberties group, which has successfully represented day laborers who were illegally prevented from soliciting for work in Woodbridge and Manassas, threatened to mount a legal challenge after Herndon proposed an ordinance that would have allowed street solicitations by government groups but not by individuals. After the most objectionable provisions were stricken and the current ordinance passed, the ACLU expressed concerns that it would be unfairly enforced against Latinos.
As it stands, the current Herndon ordinance prohibits the distribution of literature or the solicitation of contributions by a person standing on a roadway, median, or sidewalk to the occupant of a motor vehicle in places where street parking is prohibited.
The proposed amendments make it clear that standing on a sidewalk or utility strip while soliciting or distributing literature to vehicle occupants is permitted under any circumstances.
In her letter to Town Council members, ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg writes that “the restriction of speech of individuals standing on a public sidewalk is constitutionally suspect because sidewalks are ‘traditional public forums,’ where government’s authority to limit speech is at its lowest.”
“The best course of action for the Herndon Town Council to take now is to repeal the ordinance,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “This will permit individuals to exercise their constitutionally-protected free speech rights on public sidewalks, while allowing the police to enforce existing laws that prevent pedestrians from wandering into moving traffic for any reason.”
“If repeal is not feasible, Council should pass the proposed amendments, which are a great improvement over the existing ordinance,” added Willis.
Glenberg’s letter, e-mailed earlier today, can be found online at: http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/20110204HerndonAntiSolicitationOrdinanceLetter.pdf
Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, 804-644-8022