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ACLU criticizes sweep of Astoria day laborers

The precinct has arrested 40 workers in northeastern Astoria since Jan. 26, charging most of them with disorderly conduct and blocking traffic, said Inspector David Barrere, the precinct commander. "We've been getting numerous complaints, really, since I've been here," Barrere said. "What happens is, if a truck pulls up they swarm (it) for work. It backs up traffic." The precinct has rounded up four batches of the laborers, most of whom are immigrants from Ecuador, Mexico and Peru. Officers targeted the pick-up site on the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway first, arresting 11 on Jan. 26, nine on Jan. 27, and 12 on Feb. 2. On Feb. 6 they arrested 18 at the intersection of Steinway and 25th Avenue, prompting the civil liberties union to send a letter of protest to New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. "Though the vehicles were blocking the roadway, only the laborers were arrested," said the letter from ACLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. "It appears to us that this may have been a little more than a sweep of immigrant day laborers in response to community complaints. We were disturbed and surprised by this." The roundups have also shocked the dozens of regular day workers who gather at 25th Avenue and Steinway Street every morning from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. They usually get picked up by construction contractors with jobs all over the Tri-state region. The workers are just looking for work and not breaking the law, said one laborer named Angelo, 38. "They (the police) took them a week ago," Angelo said. "It would make sense if they did something wrong, but they didn't." But the criminal complaints against two day laborers filed in Queens Criminal Court accuses them of breaking the law. Two men arrested on Feb. 6, Manuel Pomaquiza, and Luis Mayancela, were charged with disorderly conduct and carrying forged identification cards. Mayancela allegedly refused to obey a police officer who told him to leave the area, the complaint stated. Pomaquiza is charged with blocking pedestrian traffic by forcing them to walk around him. Both men were released on their own recognizance and face seven years in prison if convicted, a spokeswoman for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said, adding that if they are legal immigrants the arrest could complicate their presence in the country. She did not know their immigration status. Their alleged violation of the law is a reason to applaud the 114th Precinct's enforcement, said Julian Wager, president of the Astoria Local Development Corporation, which represents nearly 300 local businesses. "They're a harassing group," Wager said. "Women can not walk down that street without some comment being made." Community Board 1 District Manager George Delis said the day workers at 42nd and Broadway have been an issue for nearly a decade. He said he was working with a nearby property owner to designate a parking lot as an official pick-up point, which would keep the crowds from blocking traffic. Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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