In a letter to Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico criticized a city ordinance concerning panhandling in Las Cruces.
“This Ordinance not only unfairly targets poor and homeless persons whose pleas for assistance are protected by the First Amendment, but it is also legally indefensible,” wrote María Sánchez, a staff attorney.”
According to Sec. 21-61 and Sec. 21-63 of the city’s municipal code, Las Cruces prohibits panhandling from a median or a “traveled portion” of a street or highway. However, Mayor Miyagishima told ABC-7 it is perfectly legal to panhandle from a public sidewalk.
“They’re welcome to go on city sidewalks or any public rights of way,” Miyagishima said. “It’s just that, when they stand in that median with a sign and then they run into the street to get money, there’s a potential that they’re going to get hurt. They may cause accidents where innocent people are hurt.”
The ACLU of New Mexico sent ten letters to mayors all across the state.
“We’re sending a strong message to cities with panhandling bans that people have a First Amendment right to ask for help in public spaces,” wrote ACLU of New Mexico Executive Director Peter Simonson.
Andre Caldera has been homeless for five months in Las Cruces.
“I think that it is a person’s right, but it depends,” Caldera said. “If you are not homeless, you do not have that right, but if you are homeless, you do have that right.”
Ramón del Campo, known as “Cowboy,” has been homeless for less than a year. He told ABC-7 he has never asked for money because he lives on disability.
“It should be their obligation (to ask),” del Campo said. “But if they’re intoxicated, they shouldn’t be panhandling.”
“I understand circumstances and everything,” said Rick, a 63-year-old homeless man who declined to give his last name. “But at the same time, there’s people making $100 or $200 a day begging. That ain’t right.”