In September 2006, an undercover police officer in Danbury, Conn., who was driving a van and posing as a contractor, picked up 11 Latino day laborers at a park and delivered them straight to federal immigration agents. The men were arrested and placed in deportation proceedings. In another city, this would have struck officials as abusive policing and a gross violation of civil rights. Not in Danbury. Its mayor said the city had only supplied “logistical support” to the agents.
The city should have learned its lesson last week when it agreed to pay $400,000 to settle a civil-rights lawsuit brought by eight of the laborers. The federal government is paying another $250,000 to settle claims against six of its immigration agents. Plaintiffs’ lawyers say it is the largest settlement ever won by day laborers. Even now, Danbury’s mayor, Mark Boughton, insists the city did nothing wrong and that the settlement was agreed to only at the suggestion of an insurance company. “We are not changing any of our policies, practices or customs,” he told The Times.
Day laborers have waged struggles across the country for the right to assemble peaceably and look for work. Cities and towns keep passing ordinances to keep day laborers off the streets only to have them overturned by federal courts as violations of Constitutional rights. In Oyster Bay, N.Y., town officials are appealing a federal judge’s decision to block, on First Amendment grounds, an anti-solicitation law that critics say was specifically — and unconstitutionally — aimed at stifling the rights of a single group: immigrant Latino men.
Mr. Boughton was the co-founder with Steve Levy, a county executive on Long Island, of Mayors and Executives for Immigration Reform, which sought to channel suburban resentment through harsh — but costly and ineffective — crackdowns. Both men should have learned that tough talk and unconstitutional laws don’t do the community any good. Sometimes they also cost the taxpayers a lot of hard-earned money.