Federal Court Finds That Brookhaven Discriminated Against Latinos in Evicting Day Laborers and Day Laborers

December 16, 2005
Contact: John Garcia, Director of Communications (212) 739-7513

A Federal Court in Long Island issued a preliminary injunction preventing the Town of Brookhaven from continuing a policy of evicting day laborers and their families without prior notice.

The Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund presented evidence in a four-day trial that the Town had executed a systematic attack on Latinos in their campaign to evict day laborers from Farmingville. PRLDEF staff attorneys Sandra Del Valle and Foster Maer, representing the Workplace Project and several laborers, charged the Town’s latest campaign, called Operation Firestorm, was focused on harassing and evicting hundreds of Latinos tenants without providing them prior notice or process.

“Only Latinos were evicted in this campaign that threw out hundreds into the streets,” said Cesar Perales, PRLDEF President and General Counsel. “Local governments cannot be allowed to use housing violations as a pretext to drive day laborers out of communities.”

Judge Joanna Seybert held today that the Town discriminated against Latinos when it initiated its new campaign of “no notice” evictions of day laborers earlier this year. The Court said the Town had delayed months after discovering the underlying housing code violations before proceeding with these “no notice” evictions yet took no steps during that lengthy delay to require that the underlying code violations be cured.

The Court then noted that 100% of the tenants evicted under this new campaign were Latino tenants even though they make up 8 % of the population and that the Town offered no explanation for that disparity. The Town had identified over 100 more homes for evictions as part of its campaign.

The Town had previously claimed that the evictions were for town code violations, such as a lack of rental permits, overcrowding, exposed wiring or plumbing, blocked exits, etc. But the court found that in 10 of the 11 premises where they executed evictions, no formal enforcement (i.e., issuance of tickets or summons) of housing violations had been taken. State law provides remedies for the violations but only after the landlord or owner has been previously notified.

Some of the evicted tenants were forced to live in woods without running water or sanitation, and some moved into housing conditions even more dangerous than before. PRLDEF charged that the town was executing a systematic campaign of “harassing, intimidating or retaliating” against Latino day laborers and their advocates.

The Latino day laborer community has been a presence in the Town of Brookhaven since the mid-1990’s. Latino day laborers have come to Brookhaven to work mostly in construction, restaurant, landscaping and other industries. Despite their strong work ethic and contribution to the local labor pool, the atmosphere of harassment and intimidation has fostered racial animus against Latinos.

“Despite anti-immigrant attacks and intimidation by county and town officials Latino day laborers and their families courageously organized to defend their rights as tenants,” said Nadia Marin-Molina, Executive Director, Workplace Project in Long Island “This struggle for rights will improved the lives of thousands more.”

PRLDEF argued in its papers that the mass homelessness these evictions create, forcing many residents to live in open camps on vacant land, with no running water or toilet facilities, presents a greater danger to community's health than the overcrowded conditions the town allegedly sought to address by these evictions.

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