- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2005

Residents of Gaithersburg’s historic district are organizing to be included in plans to open a facility in their neighborhood that would serve illegal aliens and other day laborers.

“The city is making an assumption it is OK to put 180 single men in our neighborhood,” resident Dan Searles said. “If you think you can bring that without outcry, then you are wrong.”

The roughly 30 residents who gathered last night and Wednesday said such a center has no place in a neighborhood, and that the city and Montgomery County officials “dropped the ball” by failing to include them in meetings.

The group has already met with the city’s Historic Preservation Advisory Committee and has two other meetings on its schedule, including one with the City Council on Oct. 17.

The Olde Town residents have grappled for at least a year with the issue of day laborers in their neighborhood. They said many now waiting for work outside the Grace United Methodist Church drink in public, urinate on their lawns and cause other problems that have devalued their homes and hurt their community.

However, their concerns turned to frustration and anger upon learning they were excluded from about a dozen meeting that included the Rev. Lou Piel of Grace Methodist, city and Montgomery County officials and resulted in the decision to put the day laborers in a empty building at Brookes Avenue and Route 355, several blocks from the church.

Mayor Sidney Katz was at the meetings, but City Council members also were excluded.

“We’re not against the day-laborer site,” resident Prentiss Searles said. “But we do see it jeopardizing our homes, our families. It’s going to change the character of the neighborhood.”

The residents are not alone in their struggle. Similar situations are occurring across the country, include one in Herndon in which residents are divided over a decision by town officials to build a facility to keep day laborers from loitering in front of a 7-Eleven.

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, said he would be open to proposed state legislation to bar illegal aliens from day-laborer centers.

A Montgomery County spokesman said yesterday that County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat and likely gubernatorial challenger to Mr. Ehrlich, thinks the federal government should handle issues concerning illegal aliens.

Among the alternatives being proposed by the Gaithersburg residents is to put a day-laborer center near a construction store such as Home Depot. The center, which will offer English language classes, would be the third one in Montgomery County.

City Manager David Humpton said the agreed-upon site is the “best alternative” to keep laborers out of neighborhoods.

“I pledge to the community we’re going to have good policing of this site,” he said. “We’re going to make sure once they leave [the site] they do not loiter in the neighborhood. I think it’s going to be a better environment than where they are now.”

Those who drafted the plans said they kept the location undisclosed to protect the lease negotiations.

City officials said they probably should have had a public forum, but that the meetings were publicized and open to anybody. However, residents said they learned about the meetings after they happened by reading newspaper articles.

“When people know and are told something, they get involved,” said resident Jay Jones. “We didn’t know.”

Mr. Piel said the laborers just want a place to which they can walk.

“In all our conversations with them, they’re saying they are supporting their spouse and their children,” he said. “They’re sending money back home, and they want to move their families up here. So their concern is they just want to work.”

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