- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 7, 2006

HERNDON (AP) - Dozens of people gathered yesterday to protest using taxpayer money for a day-labor center that they say promotes illegal immigration.

“The biggest problem that we see here is a lax enforcement of existing laws,” said Aubrey Stokes of Help Save Herndon, which organized the event. “We have laws on the books to cover our borders, to protect our borders, but they’re not being enforced.”

The demonstration near the center was one of a series in about 20 states that focused on tougher enforcement of immigration laws. Protesters held signs reading, “Secure America’s Borders Now” and “No Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants.”

The other protest sites included Las Vegas; Danbury, Conn.; Framingham, Mass.; and Glendale, Calif. Despite protesters and counterdemonstrators reportedly shouting at one another and using obscene gestures, there were no reports of arrests.

The day-labor center, in the parking lot of the town’s old police station, at the intersection of Rock Hill and Sterling roads, will provide portable heaters, a mobile food vendor and English classes. However, it will not check a laborer’s legal status.

Supporters of the day-laborer site, which opened Dec. 14, gathered across the street, but the demonstrations remained peaceful.

The Town Council approved funding for the center in August, asserting that illegal aliens and other day laborers were causing too many problems as they wait for potential employers outside a 7-Eleven and other convenience stores. Among the typical concerns are excessive trash, catcalls to women, public drunkenness and urination.

The council’s decision attracted national attention as part of the debate about whether local governments should use taxpayer money to fund such centers.

Council members this fall passed an ordinance that bars day laborers and their employers from conducting employment transactions anywhere other than the formal site. Violators will face Class 1 misdemeanor charges, which carry a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The center is run by Project Hope and Harmony, which will use a lottery system to distribute jobs among the laborers so they don’t swarm vehicles entering the lot.

As many as 90 day laborers have used the center daily. Some of them said they are legal residents just trying to support their families.

Joel Mills, a spokesman for Project Hope and Harmony, has said everyone deserves a presumption of innocence and that casual labor is a legal activity.

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