- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2005

As a utility van pulled into a 7-Eleven parking lot early yesterday in Herndon, George Taplin was perched nearby and aiming his camera at its license plate and the day laborers who swarmed the vehicle in search of work.

“The employers don’t want to be filmed. They don’t want to be seen,” said Mr. Taplin, organizer of the Herndon chapter of the Minutemen, a grass-roots campaign to rid towns of illegal aliens by observing their employers and reporting them to employment, tax and immigration officials.

This was only the second time since the chapter formed about two weeks ago that members have staked out the convenience store on Alabama Drive at the intersection with Elden Street, where about 50 of the laborers, including illegal aliens, waited underneath a “No Trespassing” sign.

However, members said their presence has already had an effect.

“The population was up to 200 a day,” said Bob Rudine, a 62-year-old Minuteman and retiree who lives a block away from the store.

Armed with whistles, video cameras and walkie-talkies, Mr. Rudine and about 14 other Minutemen — including two children — stood for an hour in the crisp morning air to watch vans and pickup trucks with ladders and other construction equipment circle the 7-Eleven.

Members have been instructed to avoid confrontations. Though none occurred yesterday, they said a contractor whose van was photographed Monday threatened to file a lawsuit.

Standing among the Minutemen were Town Council member Ann Null and members of Help Save Herndon.

“I consider this similar to a neighborhood watch,” Mrs. Null said. “Citizens have come forward and generously offered their time. … They’re doing something very constructive.”

The group patterns itself after similar ones along the Texas and Arizona borders with Mexico that are also grappling with the issue of illegal immigration.

This summer, the Herndon Town Council tried to resolve complaints about loitering, noise and other problems at informal gathering sites by deciding to use taxpayer money to build a day-laborer center.

The center is slated to open in mid-December and will be run by Project Hope and Harmony. However, some residents have responded to the plan by filing a lawsuit, which has thrust the town of 22,000 residents into the national spotlight.

Yesterday, Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty urging him to investigate whether the center violates federal criminal-conspiracy laws.

Illegal aliens and day laborers are also key issues in Virginia gubernatorial and House of Delegates elections Tuesday.

House Speaker William J. Howell and other Republican delegates outlined plans earlier this week to bar illegal aliens from day-laborer centers, universities and voting booths.

The laborers said yesterday they were intimidated by the Minutemen’s cameras.

“They don’t understand that we need money to survive and support our families,” Carlos Reyes, a legal Salvadoran immigrant looking for work, said in Spanish.

Bill Threlkeld, director of Project Hope and Harmony, said he was not convinced the Minutemen are as effective as they said.

“There’s probably some influence,” he said. “But we know when it gets colder, things slow down.”

He thinks a silent majority of residents support the day-laborer center and said Project Hope and Harmony is trying to help fix a problem that needs to be resolved in Washington.

“There’s an immigration problem in the United States, and people who have an issue with that should be addressing their congressman,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is solve a local problem.”

On this issue, he agrees with Minutemen who say federal and state officials are not taking charge.

“We have to keep coming back and let people know we’re in it for the long haul, [and] we need to let politicians know we’re serious about this,” said Minuteman and Loudoun County resident Diane Bonieskie, 60. “Everybody is passing the buck. This is grass roots, and this is what America is all about.”

Jerry W. Kilgore, the Republican candidate for governor, has said he would use state troopers to enforce laws against illegal aliens in any locality that fails to do so, if he is elected.

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