- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2005

A national watchdog group announced yesterday it has sued the town of Herndon over its recent vote to establish a formal center for day laborers, many of whom are illegal aliens.

Judicial Watch, a D.C.-based nonprofit public interest law firm, filed the lawsuit yesterday on behalf of six town residents who they say oppose the center.

In its lawsuit, the group requests a permanent injunction to stop Herndon from using taxpayer funds to operate the day laborer center. It also asks a judge to declare the site “unlawful and a violation of federal and state law” because the center will “predominantly” serve illegal aliens.

“Citizens of Herndon want to stop their town government from acting illegally,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, which filed the lawsuit in Fairfax County Circuit Court.

The lawsuit also questions whether the center is a violation of a new Virginia law that denies illegal aliens state and local public benefits.

The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, requires state and local governments to verify those seeking non-emergency public benefits are legally present. Judicial Watch argues that employment services qualify as public assistance.

The Herndon Town Council last month approved a proposal by Project Hope and Harmony, a group of churches and community leaders, to open a center for about 150 day laborers in a trailer at the site of the town’s defunct police station.

Herndon Mayor Michael O’Reilly, who is a lawyer, said he thinks the council’s decision will be upheld.

“It’s unfortunate that Judicial Watch has decided to take on this cause, and more unfortunate they are trying to take on a small jurisdiction instead of Arlington County or Montgomery County which already have functioning sites,” he said. “If their intention is to close down such centers, it would seem more appropriate to sue an entity that has a site that’s up and operational as opposed to one that still has a lot of hurdles to jump through.”

The center in Herndon could be open in the next few months.

In court papers, Judicial Watch officials argue that the rent-free use of town property equates to a taxpayer subsidy, although Project Hope and Harmony officials have said they will pay the rent and utilities for the trailer.

Project Hope and Harmony is waiting to find out whether it has received a grant from Fairfax County, which has set aside $400,000 from its $3 billion annual budget to address the region’s problems with day laborers. The group is also soliciting private donations, and last month received a $35,000 pledge from a resident.

The staff at the center will not check the immigration status of the workers who use it. However, the staff will advise contractors who hire laborers to inquire about the workers’ immigration status.

The residents represented in the lawsuit are Krish Karunakaram, Susan M. Powell, William and Cheryl Smith, George A. Taplin and M. McDowell.

They could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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