On a sidewalk in L.A.’s bustling piñata district, Enrique is using tongs to dip long, rosy strips of pig skin into a vat of boiling oil. When they’re blistering, crispy and slightly cool, he lays the chicharrones on the table for hungry passersby. This is the taste of his native Mexico and it is delicious. But, technically, that chicharrón is also illegal. “In the U.S., street vending is not criminalized in New York or Chicago. Only here,” Enrique says. “Why?”

Los Angeles is the only major American city where it is against the law to sell food and merchandise on the sidewalk. Criminal charges are relatively rare — of the 50,000 street vendors in L.A., just 22 were convicted of misdemeanors last year, according to the city attorney’s office. Even so, President Trump’s executive order to speed up the deportation of undocumented immigrants has pushed local elected officials to change the law. “It does not make good economic or moral sense to criminalize Angelenos who are trying to make an honest living and support their families,” says Mayor Eric Garcetti.

The Los Angeles City Council voted to decriminalize street vending, but the devil is in the details. It will take months to finalize a legal permit system for vendors. Learn more on NPR’s The Salt blog.

Photo of Merced, a vendor in the piñata district, by Camellia Tse.


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