While one business owner in Brewster says he wants village officials to clear Main Street of the day laborers waiting for work, some others don't seem to mind. The mayor says village officials' hands are tied. The police chief says the men aren't causing issues for his department. And the day laborers—they say they just want jobs. In this two-day series, Patch takes a look at some of the issues with the day laborers downtown.
When it comes to dealing with business owners’ complaints about day laborers, Village of Brewster officials have one priority: Staying out of legal trouble.
When Bob Dumont, owner of The Bowl Company, told the Village Board of Trustees that day laborers are affecting his business, they said there is little they can do. When he said there must be some law on the issue, one person told him there is indeed a law — the Constitution — and it allows for anyone to stand across the street.
While Mayor James Schoenig was absent from that particular meeting, he backs his colleagues.
“My biggest thing is that we do what we can legally and keep the village out of any potential lawsuits,” Schoenig said. "How do you go about legally taking care of it [Dumont's complaint] without winding up getting sued from somebody? That’s the million dollar question nobody's been able to figure out yet."
Schoenig said that officers cannot approach a person like they would have years ago, "tap them with a nightstick" and order them to move along. A more likely scenario is a store owner complaining about the sidewalks being blocked. The police can then ask day laborers to open up the space.
"And they [the laborers] do," Schoenig said. "Everybody’s just like 'arrest them for loitering' and you can’t do that ... If you don’t cause problems, we’re not just going to pick you off side of the road, we're not going to profile. If you do something stupid, then we’re going to arrest you, and that goes for anybody."
But efforts to avoid a lawsuit, like that cost the city $400,000, is not the only response the mayor enlists against critics. Schoenig said some residents he has spoken with don't think day laborers are as big an issue as they once were. He attributed this in part to the fact that the village has “cracked down” on overcrowding and other issues that he said were often associated with day laborers over the past decade.
“10 years ago … I used to come down on Main Street on Saturday or Sunday and there was garbage all over place,” Schoenig said. “It’s changed, it’s cleaned up a bit."
Schoenig says that part of the cleanup he speaks of is evident in statistics from the (BPD), which was established in 2007. Since the village police department began work (and collecting statistics), according to Chief John DelGardo, quality of life issues that were common four to five years ago now occur less frequently.
Each month, DelGardo said, the department catches one or two individuals for public urination and an additional one to two for public intoxication. He said that when the department first arrived, both of those figures were in the double digits.
Years ago, public nuisance problems weren't enforced, Schoenig said.
“For the longest time, we’ve been taking a beating here, that this is a cesspool, a dumping ground, all criminals live here,” DelGardo said. “I’ll tell you right now, it’s not the way it used to be."
In fact, he said, most of the people arrested by BPD officers are not day laborers. Out of the 66 people arrested in Brewster by his department from June 2010 through March 2011, 61 lived outside the village, from New York City to Dutchess County. Of the five residents arrested, two were Hispanic and three were non-Hispanic.
The majority of people who hang out are not causing mischief and do not meet any legal definition of loitering, according to DelGardo.
“They’re not causing anything really, they’re not breaking the law other than if they are here illegally,” he said, adding that his department cannot question a person’s immigration status without an arrest.
Corinne S. Beth, an immigration attorney with the Westchester Hispanic Coalition in White Plains, confirmed DelGardo’s statement.
"The local police cannot, if [day laborers] are not doing any crime [or] civil infraction, they cannot ask about their status," she said. "So if they start doing that, they are breaking the law."