L.A. Legalizes Street-Food Vendors in Wake of Trump’s Immigration Policies

Concern over deportation caused Los Angeles legislators to rethink age-old ban

la food truck
A colorfully-lit food truck in Los Angeles.Joey Zanotti

Taco lovers rejoice—Los Angeles just took a huge step towards the legalization of street-food. As reported by NPR, the city is taking this initiative to combat widespread deportation, as many of the people who sell food on the street are undocumented immigrants, who, if ticketed or arrested, would face imminent deportation by the I.C.E.

Despite a rich culture of street food vending, Los Angeles is one of the only major American cities where street vending is technically illegal. As the the Los Angeles Times notes, hawking food or goods on the sidewalk could have previously led to misdemeanor charges in Los Angeles. Although not yet finalized, L.A. lawmakers have already decriminalized selling food on the sidewalk, and are now working on hammering out the details and stipulations of the new legislation.

As Carla de Paz of the East L.A. Community Corp told NPR, "We can't vend legally yet, but they won't arrest us anymore." Which means that fewer people will be entered into the California court system, and fewer undocumented immigrants will be deported for simply making a living. The Los Angeles transit authority is currently testing out a pilot street-vending program in their privately-owned outdoor Metro plaza, where vendors won't be penalized for selling food, as they won't be vending on public grounds.

While many people in Los Angeles support the legalization of street food, some have their doubts. Restaurant owner Michael Zarabian explained to NPR that he's worried about the cost that cheap and readily-available street food will have on his brick-and-mortar business. "You can't afford to sell the same sandwich for $4 with a drink," says Zarabian. "You're going to sell it for $10 to just survive." However, with the new regulation of the street food market, Zarabian and other restaurant owners could catch a break, as street vendors might not be able to keep the prices of their wares as low as they have been in the past. "If we onboard street vendors into a formal economy, they'll be paying taxes, they'll be buying their business permits, and they are procuring their products from other suppliers," Clare Fox of the Los Angeles Food Policy Council tells NPR. This could spark a rise in prices among street vendors and food truck owners alike, lessening the burden of competition on Los Angeles restauranteurs.

If all goes well, this would be a huge win for L.A.’s undocumented immigrant population, as many of them rely on street-vending to put food on the table. However, if there’s insufficient funding and educational support for the program, it could spell trouble for immigrants who won’t fully understand the stipulations of the law.