- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 25, 2006

More than 20 property owners in Gaithersburg have blocked city officials from leasing space for a day-laborer center that could help illegal aliens find work.

“It has been a difficult process,” City Manager David Humpton said. “We’ve had many landlords say they just do not want to have a day-laborer center on their retail site.”

Pressure to find a site quickly is mounting, Mr. Humpton said.

A resident task force on the issue is pushing for results, and Mayor Sidney Katz has directed officials to find at least a temporary site by July 10.

The center would support about 100 men who currently loiter each day in front of businesses and a church along Gaithersburg’s main street.

The task force issued a report in April calling for establishing a day-laborer center that is removed from residential areas and is run by a local faith-based or nonprofit group with deep roots in the community.

“Gaithersburg is pretty well-developed, so it is difficult to find a site that is distinct from neighborhoods and office buildings. Then you have to define what ‘close’ is,” Assistant City Manager Tony Tomasello said.

He said no group can be chosen to run the center until a site is chosen because “the site drives how many services you can have there.”

Property owners’ concerns include disruptions in business from protests by pro-immigration and anti-illegal-alien groups as well as from surveillance by the Maryland Minutemen, a watchdog group that monitors illegal hiring at day-laborer centers, Mr. Tomasello said.

Some business owners also fear loss of customers who don’t agree “philosophically” with the concept of a day-laborer center that could serve illegal aliens, he added.

“No one’s been rude or anti-immigrant or anything,” Mr. Tomasello said. “I think it’s really they oppose the prospect of having a large gathering of people that they can’t tell whether they are here legally or illegally. … [They] felt it would just disrupt the logistics of their property and they didn’t feel their other tenants wanted that to happen.”

Mr. Humpton said the city and Montgomery County are looking at two sites, one of which is promising, but officials are not sure whether it fits the task force’s criteria.

Montgomery County officials have said they are committed to funding the site and have set aside $124,780 for a center this year.

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