Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UCLA International Institute

Program on International Migration bannerUCLA

Criminal Clinics in the Pursuit of Immigrant Rights


In 2006, mobile catering vendors in Los Angeles — known colloquially as lunch truck vendors orloncheros— found themselves subject to a municipal ordinance that severely limited the amount of time that they could sell food in public streets. Under the new local law, catering trucks were required to move every thirty minutes (if parked in a residential zone) or sixty minutes (if parked in a commercial zone) to a location at least one-half mile away. Vendors who did not comply were subject to steep fines.

This Essay examines the work of the UCLA criminal defense clinic on behalf of a grassroots group of lunch truck operators that formed to contest, and ultimately invalidate, the Los Angeles ordinance. Specifically, this Essay assesses the clinic’s effort to link an individual client’s defense to a broader community-based campaign to organize immigrant workers around legal reform. Toward this end, Part I offers a descriptive account of theloncheros’ political mobilization to challenge the Los Angeles durational restriction and of the clinic’s legal work on behalf of an individual vendor to advance that goal. Part II draws on theloncherocase study to examine three underappreciated aspects of criminal defense practice and, by extension, criminal clinics: law reform, problem solving across the civil-criminal line, and community mobilization. In sum, this Essay contributes the story of theloncherosas a case study in clinical process, while also using it to explore alternative conceptions of the criminal defense attorney’s role.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View