- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 18, 2005

Two dozen Hispanic men swarm to Joe Schilling’s pickup truck the moment he pulls into the parking lot in Arlington. The landscaper is looking for help, and he pays a good wage by day-laborer standards: $14 an hour.

After a few minutes, Mr. Schilling has picked his three men. They hop into his pickup, smiling broadly as they pull away and waving to the men who just a moment earlier had been their competitors for work.

This scene is repeated daily throughout Northern Virginia as men — overwhelmingly Hispanic — gather looking for construction and landscaping work or other odd jobs.

But the Arlington site is unique in Virginia because the county spends tax dollars to manage the site.

A plan to create a similar center in Herndon, in neighboring Fairfax County, has stirred opposition from people who say it is improper to spend tax dollars to help illegal aliens hunt for jobs.

The Herndon Town Council voted 5-2 Wednesday night to approve the center. But opponents, including the legal group Judicial Watch, say they will sue to block the town’s plans.

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said Herndon has become the national battleground as local officials seek to regulate growing numbers of Hispanic immigrants, often illegal, looking for odd jobs.

“This is the first significant legal challenge to these types of projects,” Mr. Fitton said of his impending lawsuit. “It will be a bellwether for many other localities.”

In Arlington, Mr. Schilling said he frequently relies on day laborers.

“These guys work twice as hard. I get a lot more work for my money,” he said. “White guys, they just have too many expectations. My biggest problem with these guys is they’ll work so hard that they’ll do more than I ask them to do.”

Since 2003, a collection of benches and some restrooms has served as a designated gathering spot in Arlington County for day laborers. The county spends nearly $200,000 annually to manage the site and a smaller one nearby.

Andres Tobar, executive director of the Shirlington Employment and Education Center, which manages the day-labor site, said a designated place simply brings order to an otherwise chaotic scene. Without it, workers will congregate on street corners and convenience store lots, and the resulting rush can create traffic and safety concerns, he said.

On any given day, 20 to 30 workers will find jobs at the Shirlington site, not quite half of those who show up. Mr. Tobar said employers are encouraged to pay a fair wage, from $10 to $15 an hour depending on the work, maybe more for a job requiring especially heavy labor.

Day laborers are not asked about their immigration status; Mr. Tobar acknowledged that most are not legal, but he said many are working through the immigration bureaucracy to obtain legal status, a process that can take years.

Some day laborers said they find work at the site only once or twice a week; others said they have better success.

Carlos Maldonado, who came to the United States from Guatemala as a child, said he looks for work at the site because, without a car, it is difficult to obtain a regular job.

“Here in Northern Virginia there’s a lot of jobs. The problem is, how can you get there?” he said.

Despite the creation of the Arlington site, an unregulated site still operates out of a nearby drugstore parking lot. Those who come to the county site, though, say the contractors there tend to pay better.

Another advantage of the county site, the workers agree, is that restrooms are available.

In Herndon, council member Ann V. Null, who opposed the center, said she has visited the Arlington site and was not impressed. The biggest issue, she said, is that unregulated sites still flourish despite the creation of an official site.

“Aiding and abetting illegal aliens is just not what we’re supposed to be doing. Government should protect us from illegal activity rather than support it,” she said.

Herndon Mayor Michael O’Reilly said a government-designated site will enable the town to close a convenience store parking lot used as a day-labor site.

“A regulated site where you can have restrooms and some control over what’s going on is better than what we currently have,” Mr. O’Reilly said.

Although the Herndon proposal has generated intense interest — Town Council phone lines were jammed when a local talk-radio host opposed to the idea gave out the number — Arlington’s site has operated quietly with little opposition.

Arlington County Board member Walter Tejada said national anti-immigration groups have turned their sights on Herndon and turned a local issue into an ideological battleground.

“These immigrants … are willing to do jobs that those who criticize immigrants are not going to be doing anytime soon,” Mr. Tejada said. “We can yell and complain, or we can find a constructive solution.”

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