- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 21, 2007

A D.C. Council member”s plans to place a day-laborer center for mostly Hispanic immigrants in Northeast have been delayed at least until next month while officials work to find a permanent site for the facility.

Meanwhile, warm weather has brought as many as 200 immigrants looking for work each day to the parking lot near the Home Depot at 901 Rhode Island Ave. in Northeast. And tensions between residents in the Brentwood neighborhood surrounding the area and the day laborers are beginning to boil over.

At a community meeting Monday night at Israel Baptist Church in Northeast to discuss the issue, residents said the laborers congregating in the area are doing more than just looking for jobs.

The workers are drinking on street corners, relieving themselves along walls and sleeping under porches and in abandoned houses, residents said.

“When you come in my neighborhood and you disrespect my wife and my children by urinating, defecating, leaving trash … I”m upset,” said Charles Appling, who has lived with his wife on 10th Street near the Home Depot for 17 years. “I am appalled.”

Abilio Hernandez, a worker and president of the Washington D.C. Workers Union, an ad hoc organization formed to represent the interests of day laborers in the city, also spoke to the crowd of roughly 30 people and said the residents” complaints aren”t stemming from actions of workers who abide by his group”s rules.

Mr. Hernandez landed a permanent job and now goes to the shopping center on weekends to check on union members, he said.

“There are some people who are engaging in things other than looking for work,” Mr. Hernandez said through an interpreter. “We don”t approve of that.”

Council member Harry Thomas Jr., Ward 5 Democrat, said he planned to meet with representatives from the Metropolitan Police Department and the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to help solve the problems. Home Depot also has hired two police officers to help provide security at the store.

“One of the things we have to do is enforce things that are not acceptable,” Mr. Thomas said. “We”ve got to be vigilant.”

Mr. Thomas initially proposed starting construction this month on a temporary “multicultural training center,” with plans to build a permanent structure in the shopping center.

But as officials grapple with where to place the site, the Ward 5 Democrat said he hopes to trim down the process of tackling the issue.

“If we can do the one site and get it over with, I”d rather do” that, Mr. Thomas said.

Mr. Thomas has secured $500,000 in budget funding to build the center, which he hopes will connect day laborers and local residents to jobs.

Both the District and Home Depot own land in the shopping center that has been considered for the site. Officials were working to identify who owns which parcels and hope to begin work on the center by next month, Mr. Thomas said.

Members of a task force formed by Mr. Thomas” office to identify the best practices also recently visited day-laborer centers in Wheaton and Silver Spring run by CASA of Maryland to observe how they operate.

Montgomery County officials have been criticized for using taxpayer money to fund those facilities for day laborers, many of whom are illegal aliens. But it is still not clear how or whether D.C. officials will check the immigration status of workers at the proposed site.

Mr. Thomas said it would be up to the D.C. Department of Employment Services — which would help run the site under his plan — to “manage and follow their normal process.”

Diana Johnson, a spokeswoman for the employment agency, said officials are required to check legal status for people seeking federal aid or entering some federally funded programs at employment centers run by the agency. She said it was too early to say whether they would be required to do so at the D.C. site.

“They”re still working on it so I don”t want to say definitively,” Ms. Johnson said. “We are still looking into what”s acceptable and what we are required to do by law.”

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