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Day laborer ordinance sparks controversy in Vista

Vista has passed what it believes is the first ordinance of its kind in the country. The new law requires people who hire short-term workers to register with the city, display the registration in their vehicle and write out terms of employment for day laborers. Reporter Rebecca Tolin has details on the controversy surrounding the law.

Victor Hernandez, Day Laborer: "Why do you think they need us? Because we do the hardest jobs."

Victor Hernandez is like many who wait for work at this Vista shopping center. The 34-year-old left behind four children and a wife in Mexico. He came to find work in San Diego as a day laborer.

Hernandez: "I came to this country to live a little better and to have my family better off, because in my country there's not enough work and I come to this country so I can live better with my family."

Hernandez admits he's undocumented, but many of the men are here legally. Either way, he says workers face mistreatment and hostility. Hernandez says protesters, the Minutemen and a group called the Vista Citizens Brigade, try to scare potential employers away.

Hernandez: "They shoo us away, they tell us to get out of here. I don't know English, but I imagine they are not saying good things to us, they're probably not saying stay here. I think they're saying something bad because if they're making motions for us to get out of here it's because they don't want us here."

Tina Jillings, Coalition for Peace, Justice, and Dignity: "The Minutemen now coming from the border to the inner cities and starting to harass and verbally abuse them, call them horrible names, make awful comments."

Vista resident Tina Jillings is referring to protests like this one on June 3. She says it's not uncommon for people to show up with anti-immigration signs and American flags at this shopping center, which has become a hot bed of anti-immigration activism. But even regular customers to the Vons strip mall feel illegal immigration is out of control.

Jack Stevenson, Vista Resident: "I don't think it's right. They are illegals. And they're on private property. And it's making a mess. The city has to clean up everything and they're living in the bushes."

Some business owners complain that the day laborers and protestors scare away customers, so the city is responding with a Day Laborer's Ordinance. It would require potential employers to register with the city and sign some sort of work contract before hiring day laborers.

Morris Vance, Vista Mayor: "We've received a lot of criticism from various fringe elements that have dealt with this, that are against this concept. They don't want to see anything. They want to see it all go away. And it's not going to go away. And I think what we need to do as a city is to manage it."

Mayor Morris Vance says the Day Laborer Ordinance will protect short-term workers by requiring employers to provide written terms of employment. Morris says the city is trying to control an incendiary situation and curtail exploitation of immigrants.

Vance: "They would be taken out to a job site and get paid half of what they're promised or they wouldn't get paid at all or be left at sites where they have no transportation back. And I think we have an obligation to those that are part of the community to keep them safe as well."

Jillings: "If Vista really wants to protect the day laborers, they should open a day laborer site for them to be safe from the elements, for them to have access to a bathroom, to have access to water, not blazing out here in the sun and free from verbal abuse."

Jillings says the ordinance will do little to protect workers. Instead, it will ward away hirers who won't wade through the city's red tape. But Jack Stevenson says it's a good first step.

Stevenson: "They got to get some kind of handle on it and I think they're in the right direction. Something has to be done, somebody make a move. Our Federal government isn't doing anything worth a darn."

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