- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2005

Hundreds of Herndon residents and day laborers voiced their support or opposition at a public hearing last night on a proposed permanent day-laborer center that would open in town.

So many people showed up for the hearing at the Herndon Municipal Center that officials had to assign numbers to those who wanted to comment on the issue before the Herndon Planning Commission.

The hearing was about a proposal to house the day laborers in a trailer next to the town’s police station. The police, who have outgrown the site, are expected to move this month.

A group of community leaders and churches called Project Hope and Harmony want to create a regulated site for day laborers, many of whom are illegal aliens, who currently wait for work at a 7-Eleven parking lot about a mile from the proposed site.

Organizers are raising money and seeking a grant from Fairfax County to fund a day-laborer center in the trailer. The trailer is on town property, but no town taxpayer dollars would fund it.

During last night’s hearing, hundreds outside the municipal center held protests and counterdemonstrations on the proposed center.

A group of day laborers shouted chants, such as “We are not criminals” and “We pay taxes, too.”

Those who opposed the center responded by shouting, “Enforce our laws.”

Protesters held signs with messages that read: “No hiring hall” and “Your tax $ for day labor?”

The protesters stood next to dozens of immigrants who wore heart-shaped badges with “Tolerance” written on them. The immigrants also carried signs that read: “Open your hearts to the poor and needy.”

Ricardo Cabellos, who led the day-laborer group in chants last night, said the day laborers are victims of hateful rhetoric and discrimination.

“I am here to defend the dignity of these workers,” he said, noting that employers who hire them often abuse them.

He also said worries about a day-laborer center lowering property values are unfounded because the workers often are hired to remodel and build additions to homes — work that improves the value of the homes.

Resident Alan Smith attended the hearing to oppose the proposed center.

“The site is not positive,” he said. “It will encourage more illegal activity.”

The planning commission was expected to end last night’s meeting before midnight and resume the public hearing on the day-laborer center tomorrow night.

The day-laborer center issue has divided the town, which has a population of 22,000.

Many hope a formal center will stop problems such as loitering, public urination and harassment. Some residents of the area are worried a day-laborer center will reduce property values and increase crime.

Others oppose the establishment because they don’t want the town to encourage illegal immigration.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is helping those Herndon residents fighting the day-laborer center proposal, said Michael Hethmon, the group’s legal counsel.

“Any action to set up a formal day-labor center or to protect the very large numbers of illegal aliens would violate federal immigration laws and a number of Virginia state laws as well,” he said. “Creating a sanctuary for this activity is about the worst thing you can do.”

Mr. Hethmon said FAIR and other groups are prepared to sue Herndon if town officials approve the center.

“We see this as basically a test case of whether states and towns around the country are going to go with the rule of law on this issue or are they going to opt for a Band-Aid which leads to chaos,” Mr. Hethmon said.

Under the proposal, volunteers would pay rent for the trailer, where day laborers could use the restroom, park their bikes and purchase food from vendors. The trailer is across the street from the town’s Public Works Department, which houses heavy trucks and equipment.

The Planning Commission may set conditions such as hours of operation and screening requirements.

After the hearings, the commission will make a recommendation to the Town Council, which also will hold public hearings.

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