Ninth Circuit Decision Reinforces Rights of Undocumented Workers

The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), a long-time advocate for the Latino community, has been a fixture in the Ninth Circuit for over a decade defending undocumented workers’ legal rights. In March of this year, President and General Counsel of MALDEF, Thomas A. Saenz, argued before the 11-judge en banc panel on behalf of the plaintiffs, Comité de Jornaleros de Redondo Beach and the National Day Laborers Organization Network (NDLON), challenging the City of Redondo Beach’s anti-solicitation ordinance. Guided by “well-established principles of First Amendment law”, the Court found the ordinance failed to meet the elements of the Supreme Court’s “time, place and manner test.” The Ninth Circuit, in a 9-2 decision, stood firmly in support of the First Amendment rights of undocumented workers by finding the ordinance a “facially unconstitutional restriction on speech.”

The Redondo Beach ordinance prohibited individuals from soliciting or attempting to solicit employment or business to a motor vehicle occupant while standing on a street or highway. Redondo Beach Municipal Code §3-7.1601(a). As a result, the ability of a day laborer to provide for their family by looking for day labor jobs is completely restricted.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision gives a firm foothold to the speech rights of undocumented workers across the country whose voices are being stifled by similar ordinances. Saenz expressed in a comment on the ruling, “the longstanding principle that the right of free speech belongs to everyone has been significantly bolstered by this decision.” Echoing Saenz’s sentiments, Pablo Alvarado, NDLON’s Executive Director, calls the victory one “achieved by humble people for everyone.” In the constant struggle to define the constitutional rights of undocumented workers, the Hispanic legal community must lead the charge to not allow our brothers and sisters to be taken advantage of.