Monday, October 2, 2006

Gaithersburg city officials have announced that a property owner is willing to lease space to open a day-laborer center by winter, after rejections this year by more than 30 landlords.

But several residents said yesterday that they will sue the city and force a recall of the mayor and the City Council if members approve the plan to help find work for laborers including illegal aliens.

City officials said they want to house the 50 to 100 men, who loiter daily downtown as they look for work, in a 2,050-square-foot storefront at 213 Muddy Branch Road, inside the Festival shopping center.

The men — many of whom are Hispanic illegal aliens — began gathering two weeks ago outside a vacant building leased by Montgomery County after residents persuaded the owner of a lot across the street to authorize police to arrest trespassers.

Officials said the new site, a former scuba retail store that became available this week, would require some “minor fix-ups” but could “readily house some offices.”

“I think we’ve got a good proposal to come before the mayor and City Council on October 12,” said City Manager David Humpton. “With public support, we are hopeful that the center could become operational before the winter season.”

The City Council will seek public comment on the center at a special work session at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12, but officials said several residents are expected to offer comment at tonight’s regular meeting.

Several residents said yesterday that such a center would be a “blatant violation” of federal law and would draw illegal aliens to the city.

Judicial Watch, a public-interest law firm, threatened in July to sue the city if it opened a center. It had filed a similar suit last year against the town of Herndon. Residents there ousted most council members who supported opening a partially taxpayer-funded worker center last year.

“If [Judicial Watch does] move forward with their efforts to stop it or prevent it from coming into the city with a lawsuit, I would certainly be happy to join in that,” said Demos Chrissos, a Gaithersburg resident for more than 25 years. “As far as the recall vote … I would certainly be willing to pursue that as well.”

Mr. Chrissos said he thinks “the city is taking us in the wrong direction” by creating a safe haven for illegal aliens.

“How can people who are here illegally make demands on people who are here legally and the city government has an obligation to pay attention to them?” he asked. “They chose to come here and do it this way. Now they’re saying, ‘Now that we’re here, you owe us something. You have to build us a day-laborer center.’

“What demands will they make next?” Mr. Chrissos asked.

Stephen Schreiman, director of the state Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, which turns over photographs of employers hiring illegal aliens to state and federal tax and licensing agencies, said his group also will oppose the plan. He estimates about 20 of his group’s 150 members live in Gaithersburg or the surrounding area.

“If the city goes forward with this, we’re going to keep all our options open as far as RICO suits, civil suits, recall the mayor and council,” Mr. Schreiman said. “Whatever it takes to stop this nonsense.”

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations is a federal law aimed at organized crime.

Other residents said that they are satisfied with the proposal, but that they will encourage the council to find a faith group “with deep local roots” to run the center and adopt an anti-solicitation ordinance that bars the laborers from seeking work outside the center.

Mr. Humpton said he supports the ordinance as “another enforcement tool that the police can use to encourage the workers to use the site.”

Montgomery County officials have committed $125,000 for the center.

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