- The Washington Times - Friday, August 5, 2005

Fairfax County is looking to grant $400,000 in taxpayer funds to groups that would set up at least three formal centers for day laborers.

Community leaders in Culmore, Annandale and Herndon have applied for the grants, which aim to help day laborers organize and regulate themselves.

The communities have large groups of laborers — some of them illegal aliens — who loiter and cause traffic problems while seeking work.

Fairfax has set aside up to $400,000 of its $3 billion budget for grants for centers to address the “challenges presented by day laborers,” county government spokeswoman Merni Fitzgerald said.

“Day laborers are a part of our community and the self-management strategy would help reduce the public complaints,” Miss Fitzgerald said. “We want to help day laborers become part of the solution.”

The county does not check the immigration status of day laborers, she said. “Looking for work is a legal activity.”

State Sen. Kenneth Thomas Cuccinelli II said he has a “major problem” with the grant proposal.

“It is completely wrong, not just bad policy, but wrong to spend tax money for the benefit of illegal aliens,” the Fairfax County Republican said. “It’s not fair for people who really are outside of the tax system to get these benefits while regular taxpayers are being milked for it.”

But immigrant advocacy groups say most of the day laborers are not illegal aliens and those who are illegal pay taxes but can’t receive Social Security benefits.

Mr. Cuccinelli said the grant money encourages more people to come into the country illegally and will lead to a flood of day labor centers.

“When you propose giving benefits to those who are here illegally, you incentivize them to call home and say, ‘Hey, they are giving stuff out up here, come on over,’” he said. “The word gets out very quickly.”

This debate is raging among the 22,000 residents of Herndon, where town leaders are considering approval of a day labor center.

Project Hope and Harmony, a coalition of churches and community leaders, has applied for the county grant and is soliciting private donations. The group would use the grant as seed money to start a small center it wants to operate in a trailer at the police station.

The Town Council will consider the proposal Aug. 16, but the Planning Commission this week voted 4-3 against recommending it.

If the council approves the project, it would become a misdemeanor to solicit work anywhere other than the formal center.

Herndon Mayor Michael O’Reilly said he knows setting up a formal site is not ideal, but that something must be done because of the many complaints from residents who don’t want the dozens of day laborers to continue seeking work at a 7-Eleven.

“It makes a lot of sense,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is make the best of the situation we have.”

The Virginia General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a bill this year that will deny illegal aliens access to state and local public benefits. The bill, which becomes law Jan. 1, did not define local benefits, but many conservative lawmakers say a day labor center would qualify as one.

Mr. Cuccinelli has asked Attorney General Judith W. Jagdmann, a Republican, to interpret whether spending taxpayer money for day labor centers violates the law.

He also said next year’s session will see legislation that would require a taxpayer-funded center to check the immigration status of anyone using the facility, similar to the requirement that drivers must be legally in the country to obtain a license.

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