- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Gaithersburg officials said yesterday that a proposal for a day-laborer center for illegal aliens has been further delayed because landlords, merchants and other residents say it would bring crime and other problems into their neighborhood.

“As the real possibility that a day-laborer center could be established, opposition has increased,” said Assistant City Manager Tony Tomasello. “If you look at the letters and the calls and the e-mails, they’re 90 percent opposed, but it doesn’t solve the neighborhood’s problem.”

Nearly 30 property owners since April have blocked the city from renting space to open a site to help illegals find work. Then, residents and business owners this month protested that two potential, temporary sites in the Old Town historic district were too close to schools, homes and businesses.

City Manager David Humpton said Monday at a City Council meeting that he will meet separately with religious, nonprofit and business community members to search for a solution that might have been overlooked.

“We’re definitely taking a step back and re-evaluating which direction to go,” Mr. Tomasello said.

Gaithersburg is just one of several area jurisdictions grappling with the issue.

Prince George’s County is trying to open two centers. And the Herndon Town Council wants the business community to take over a partially taxpayer-funded center that opened in December.

“They need to step up and do what’s necessary in terms of finding private property on which it can be located, funding it, those kinds of things,” said Herndon Council member Bill Tirrell. “If there are illegal aliens [using it], go home. Come back in through the front door.”

Mr. Tirrell, elected to the council when residents ousted those who supported the center, said that members have not formally discussed the center, but that he doubts they will renew its land-use permit.

Kim Propeack, a spokeswoman for CASA of Maryland, an immigrant-advocacy group that runs day-laborer centers in Silver Spring, Takoma Park and Wheaton, said the situations in Gaithersburg and Herndon follow a trend of more groups using the day-laborer issue as a platform to push politics on immigration.

However, she said the region has “largely responded to the day-laborer situation in a very humane and well-informed manner.”

Joel Mills, a spokesman for Project Hope and Harmony, which runs the Herndon center, said that the site has had “great success” in limiting such problems as loitering and public urination and that only a few laborers and employers have received citations for trespassing or negotiating work deals outside the center.

Mr. Mills called the situation in Gaithersburg “a tough issue with hardened positions on both sides” and said officials there need to look at solutions in other communities.

Mr. Tomasello said that a resident task force visited the centers in other parts of Montgomery County and in Herndon, but that the residents found some laborers continued to mill outside sites while waiting for work.

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