- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2005

Loitering charges against 10 Hispanic day laborers arrested last fall for soliciting jobs outside a Woodbridge convenience store will be dropped if they stay out of trouble, a Prince William County judge ruled yesterday.

“If there are no further violations, the cases will be dismissed,” said Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert yesterday.

Tim Freilich, managing attorney of the Virginia Justice Center, said after yesterday’s hearing that the laborers don’t intend to break any laws. “They’re just looking for work to support their families,” he said.

The loitering charges, each of which carries a $100 fine, were filed last fall after Prince William County police arrested some two dozen Hispanics congregating at a 7-Eleven store where store managers had posted “No Loitering” signs.

Police also had said they fielded daily complaints from customers and businesses that the laborers were urinating in the woods near the store near Longview Drive or leaving trash. Police reportedly had allowed the laborers to solicit jobs there before most businesses open at 9 a.m., but that they had to repeatedly tell the laborers to leave the property after that time of day.

The court decision came after an agreement was reached among police, the 7-Eleven store managers, the Covenant Presbyterian Church located near the store, and the day laborers, Mr. Freilich said. Under the agreement, the laborers will be allowed to congregate at the site to meet employers as long as they don’t disrupt nearby businesses and housing communities.

The church allowed laborers to gather in its parking lot after the arrests outside the 7-Eleven, but that became difficult when work on Longview Drive interfered with employers driving to the parking lot. “The present situation doesn’t work for anyone,” Mr. Freilich said.

Day laborer sites have sparked debates throughout the Washington area, which has seen a rapid growth among the Hispanic population.

A task force is being formed in Prince William to come up with a solution to the increasing countywide problem of day laborers looking for jobs, mostly outside convenience stores or on street corners.

Some communities such as Arlington have set up official sites where day laborers can wait for employers.

Mr. Freilich said the problem is critical in Prince William County because the county has the “highest job growth rate in the nation.” Prospective employers frequently go to sites where day laborers gather, and even transport new hires to jobs.

The 7-Eleven where the arrests occurred was a laborer site because several contractors went there on coffee breaks, and the job hunters hoped the contractors would hire them, Mr. Freilich said.

“Men looking for work should not be a problem,” he said. “In Northern Virginia now, development depends a lot on the work of low-wage employees.”

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