Police crack down on day laborers

September 3, 2009 4:05:21 PM PDT
League City's top cop says his police department is getting tough on day laborers after years of letting them gather and find work right next to the police station.The city is finding itself in the middle of a heated debate that's raged on for decades. Some say the day laborers are being disruptive and trespassing, while others say they do not deserve to be treated like criminals.

The effort began Wednesday, and even though the police department did not hand out any citations or make any arrests, the chief says he hopes it sends a strong message. But some in the area don't like the message that's being sent.

A native of Mexico, Juan Jimenez says he came to the US for just one reason.

"For my family, to get them food," he said. "If I didn't have them, I wouldn't come here."

But as of late, that's meant he, along with dozens of other day laborers in League City, have had to deal with the police.

"Several of them got thrown into police cars," said shop owner Juan Cortez.

Cortez captured cell phone video of the new police crackdown. Officers are targeting day laborers they say are breaking the law. It's a law enforcement response that League City Police Chief Michael Jez says was long overdue.

"When you go to a country, you're expected to respect their statues and their community standards," Chief Jez explained.

The crackdown is focused mainly on FM 518, where police say some business owners have complained of day laborers impeding traffic, loitering and littering. While not a witness to that, business owner Bert McHenry supports the move.

"Absolutely," he said. "If it was my business and I had people hanging out there like that all the time and leaving trash, yes, absolutely."

But other business owners believe police are going too far.

Cortez said, "From this side, it looked like harassment."

Cortez witnessed the crackdown and didn't like what he saw.

"I'm here every day and I see the activity and they're not doing anything that's unlawful," he told Eyewitness News.

Chief Jez denies there is any harassment, standing firm behind his effort.

"Can they congregate and seek employment? Yes, certainly they can," he said. "But in doing so we expect that they respect our laws, they respect other citizens and they conduct their affairs appropriately."

Chief Jez adds that as the program goes forward, citations and arrests can be expected.

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