- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 18, 2001

About 300 day laborers who have gathered at shopping center parking lots along University Boulevard in Takoma Park and Langley Park will migrate to the parking lot of an unoccupied office building in Takoma Park,Md. beginning today.
The move comes after shop owners in the area had complained that the crowds of men scared away customers and Takoma Park police had threatened to arrest and fine the group of mostly Hispanic immigrants.
"It's a temporary, temporary agreement," said Amy Coughenour-Betancourt, president of CASA de Maryland, a nonprofit Latino-rights group, who expects to sign a six-month lease for the building's parking lot in the 6500 block of New Hampshire Avenue. "We don't have it finalized, but we have permission to move ahead."
CASA representatives today will be at the shopping center parking lots directing workers to the new site, which is about two miles from the previous gathering place, and vans will be on hand to transport them, said Mrs. Coughenour-Betancourt.
CASA will pay $2,500 of the $3,000 monthly rent with state funds, and Takoma Park will contribute $500 each month.
According to Bill Hanna, an urban-studies professor at the University of Maryland who is researching the situation, 75 percent of the day laborers live in Prince George's County. County officials said Monday they will expand social services in that area.
"We are focusing on a more holistic approach," said Donna Crocker, the county's chief administrator of health and human services.
CASA officials said Prince George's officials are denying the problem. "Prince George's does not want to see day laborers. They want to ignore them," said CASA Executive Director Gustavo Torres.
A deadline that allowed the men to gather in Takoma Park expired yesterday.
About 12 city and county police cars patrolled the lots yesterday. Takoma Park police threatened to arrest or assess $500 trespassing fines on anyone gathered at the old site. They have distributed leaflets telling employers not to pick up the men there. Prince George's County police said they will not fine the workers, but will prevent a large group from gathering at the shopping center parking lots.
Many workers have said they would continue coming to the parking lots regardless of a new site or police pressure. About 25, compared to the usual 100, were gathered there at 10 a.m. yesterday. They said it was the most convenient location.
Many live in apartment complexes near the shopping centers, and most walked to the parking lots.
Carlos Gomez, a 22-year-old worker from Guatemala who has lived in Langley Park one month, said he will keep coming. He said he is worried employers will not know where to go "if we keep going from place to another."
CASA, which had been looking for another site for 90 days, said it had been turned away by owners of 10 locations in Takoma Park and Langley Park.
Although Mrs. Coughenour-Betancourt was relieved to find a solution in the nick of time, she stressed the solution is temporary. She said she hopes to find a permanent location for the laborers.
"It buys us some time. It allows the day laborers some breathing room," she said. "Am I overjoyed to lease a parking lot for that amount of money? No. But at least the workers won't have to worry about being harassed or arrested."
CASA has not talked with the landlord about leasing the new space permanently, but would like to set up temporary bathrooms and conduct English classes on the site.
The intersection of University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue, where the men have gathered for almost two years, is at the juncture ofTakoma Park, Montgomery County and Prince George's County. The different jurisdictions made finding a solution to relocating the open-air labor market more difficult, said Marc Elrich, a Takoma Park City Council member.
Typically, the men work in construction or landscaping jobs for D.C.-area companies. .
Tensions have been high over the situation. Monday night, about 150 community members and workers gathered at a candlelight vigil in the parking lots to show support.

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