To Protect Undocumented Immigrants, Los Angeles Will No Longer Arrest Street Vendors

Lead Photo: Photo: New York Times
Photo: New York Times
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When President Donald Trump signed an executive order last week attempting to dismantle sanctuary cities, Los Angeles proudly stood with its undocumented community. Despite Trump’s promise to withhold federal funding from cities refusing to detain undocumented immigrants for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti said he won’t cooperate with Trump if it comes at the expense of a group. “I look forward to working with the White House in areas like infrastructure, where President Trump says he wants to spend a trillion dollars… But we’re also going to stand up for our families not to be divided,” he said on Morning Edition, clarifying that LA doesn’t define itself as a sanctuary city. Not burdening the LAPD with federal immigration officers‘ duties benefits the undocumented community, but it’s not enough. That’s why on Tuesday, the LA City Council voted to draft a law decriminalizing street vending.

For at least two decades, advocates have demanded that officials stop penalizing street vendors – a large majority of whom are Latinos and/or immigrants. Some vendors receive warnings or tickets. Others face arrest and criminal misdemeanor charges, which increases their chances for deportation. As officials have failed to find a way to regulate the street vending industry that includes between 10,000 and 50,000 people, it’s immigrants who have suffered. Even still, they take the risk. “I’m hustling right now,” Luis, a Guatemalan immigrant who didn’t divulge his last name, told PRI. “As soon as I see the cops, I’ve got to run. I already got four tickets. I already did, like, 21 days of community service. It’s not an easy thing to do. Everybody right here has to hustle.”

Photo: Los Angeles Times
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In his first post-election interview, Trump sat down with Lesley Stahl and reiterated his plan to make removal of immigrants one of his administration’s top priorities. He described his plan to deport two to three million undocumented immigrants soon after taking office, focusing on “people that are criminals and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers.” Last week’s immigration orders zeroed in on immigrants with criminal records, including those whose cases are pending. This means that a street vendor arrested for trying to support his or her family could become a prime target for deportation.

Trump’s presidency has pushed the city council to act quickly. According to the Los Angeles Times, Councilman Jose Huizar said that this step is “a sign to this Trump administration that we will not abide by his fear, his vilification, his scapegoating of immigrants. You do not have to work in the shadows.”

The council still has a lot of work ahead to enact a system that works for everyone. The council has received criticism for proposing rules that might make street vending illegal in certain neighborhoods or requiring sellers to receive permission from nearby shops. The city may also place a limit on the number of vendors per block.

Photo: Joe Delaplaine/Liberation
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Between drafting the law and distributing permits to vendors, it could take months to regulate the industry. For now, vendors may still receive fines or citations, but they no longer have to worry about a criminal conviction. As for the vendors who have already received a misdemeanor charge, lawyers are working to find out if there’s a way the city can offer them amnesty.

According to some, like restaurant owner Michael Zarrabian, street vending brings unfair advantages.”They don’t have all the expenses that we have from permits, the health department, workers’ comp, insurance,” he said. “They don’t pay that, so they are able to sell their products 30, 40, sometimes 50 percent cheaper than us.” But for former vendors like Balbina Sanchez, it’s welcome news. When she first started vending on the street, she ran into a lot of issues, eventually forcing her to get a food truck and the necessary permits. However, she made more money as a street vendor, and will return once it’s legal. She said, “[If] they legalized street vending and said I could go back to selling on the street I would love that!”

While it will be difficult to please everyone, Los Angeles has the opportunity to serve as a model for other cities who vow to protect undocumented immigrants. In New York City, for example, broken windows policing – which cracks down on minor crimes, like jumping a turnstile at a subway station – disproportionately impacts low-income people. Last week, when reporters asked NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio if he plans to end broken windows policing because of Trump’s executive orders, he said that the city won’t rush to make any changes.

“Look, let’s take one thing at a time here,” he said, according to Gothamist. “We’re a long way from this having the effect that so many wish it to have. In the meantime, this is the safest big city in America. The NYPD continues to drive down crime while healing the relationship between police and community. We’re going to stay on that track. It’s as simple as that.”

But as long as the NYPD arrests immigrants for the most minor of crimes, they’ll be on ICE’s radar. Though the NYPD won’t ask them for their immigration status, they are fingerprinted and identified. ICE receives that information. Sanctuary cities only keep ICE out of jails, not out of people’s homes.

“The NYPD’s high-arrest policies this effectively provide the federal government with ready-made lists of thousands of immigrant New Yorkers whose humanity, family, and community ties, and even lawful residency, can be undermined simply because they bear the label of ‘criminal’ for the most paltry alleged offenses,” defense lawyers wrote in a letter to City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito last month. “As a result, arrests for being in the park after dark, for possessing an open container of alcohol, or for other harmless activities, which are largely permitted in more affluent neighborhoods, essentially flag vulnerable New Yorkers for priority enforcement by ICE.”