Hire Calling

Rousting day workers under the banner of a crime crackdown

Magnolia Heights resident Hiram Butler says male prostitutes move into the area at night, after the police patrols taper off.

"I think prostitution should be legal. I think you should be able to order it over the telephone in any color, shape, size or form, but I don't want it walking through my neighborhood, where it becomes a criminal activity and it becomes a problem," Butler says.

Casa Juan Diego organizer Mark Zwick acknowledges the problems some immigrant men have created for the Inner Loop neighborhood, but he opposes the use of tickets to resolve the issue. Still, it's better than it used to be, Zwick quietly adds.

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"They used to be really tough, until we protested strongly," Zwick says of the times two decades ago. "The officers used to take them out, pull their guns out and wave them around and really frighten the men. Now they're a lot more sophisticated about it."

So now the citations, many of them for questionable reasons. Rodriguez suspects many of the immigrant men don't pay the fines or even bother to give officers their real names.

Police say those who fail to pay citations can be jailed, although Rodriguez says the police miss the point. While the officers are busy issuing citations to men on corners seeking jobs, the real lawbreakers are committing crimes in the neighborhoods.

Controlling the problem became important only when the lawyers and judges started moving back into the neighborhood and demanded action, Coleman says.

Police Lieutenant A.R. LaHaie says the crackdown followed citizen complaints. He describes the process as "trying to address a difficult situation before it gets any worse."

Laborers and those seeking to hire them first received police flyers warning them of citations if they refused to use the hiring hall, LaHaie says. "It wasn't as though one day we woke up and decided to issue all these tickets," he says. "We tried to take other steps, but they just were not working." He says police do not ticket those merely standing on the corners, but it is against the law to flag down traffic with the intent to do business.

However, men in the working hall complain some have been picked up simply because of the way they looked, not acted. One 22-year-old Mexican laborer says police picked him up as he walked to a convenience store on Washington last month. He says they held him 30 hours and gave no explanation for the arrest.

Hispanic leaders, such as Johnny Mata of the League of United Latin American Citizens, plan to take up the crackdown issues with Chief of Police C.O. Bradford. Magali Candler, the supervising attorney at Associated Catholic Charities' Texas Center for Immigrant Legal Assistance, says tickets such as those issued in Magnolia Heights raise constitutional issues.

"When I hear something like this, I have to wonder whether immigrants are being treated differently from other people," says Candler. "It reminds me of old vagrancy laws and loitering laws that were struck down because they were unconstitutionally vague and designed to pinpoint homeless people."

Tatcho Mindiola Jr., director of the Center for Mexican-American Studies at the University of Houston, says people do not want to deal with the underlying issues of Central American poverty that bring workers here.

"The fact of the matter is the first time you want your yard cut, the first time you want your kids taken care of, the first time you want your tree trimmed, you go out and get the immigrant labor," Mindiola says. "The benefits of immigration still far outweigh any negative impacts that they may have on our society. We continue to focus upon the human elements to the detriment of fixing the economics of the situation."

Brooks retained an attorney to fight his ticket in court -- the American way -- but his lawyer told him there was no point in fighting a traffic ticket.

Rodriguez says he is troubled by the realities of that American way, especially after reading a book describing how this is the nation of immigrants.

"It made me think," Rodriguez says. "If this is the land of immigrants, then why are they treating honest people so bad

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