- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Dozens of day laborers who have gathered for years in a Gaithersburg parking lot must find a new place to seek work beginning today because the lot’s owners have asked police to shut down the site.

The lot, owned by S&B; Partnership, is at 117 North Frederick Ave. between a shopping complex and Grace United Methodist Church. Laborers had been allowed to loiter there daily until 9:30 a.m.

“Residents said that the people who gathered in the lot were wandering around the neighborhood [and that] they had safety concerns, that people were urinating in their yards,” said Paul Meehan, the lot’s property manager. “We’d like to be good neighbors to the neighborhood, and we’d like to work as best as we can with the city.”

Gaithersburg and Montgomery County police said that they will warn, ticket and, as a last resort, arrest trespassers on the lot who are not customers of the mall or the church.

Police said that they will not target immigrants and that they will not check the immigration status of those they arrest.

Trespassing is a misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to 90 days in jail or a $500 fine.

CASA of Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group, and religious leaders today plan to hold a 7 a.m. press conference to protest the new enforcement, which they call an action of hate and discrimination.

Knowledgeable sources said that the 50 to 100 day laborers — many of them Hispanic illegal aliens — have gathered in the lot since the Spanish Catholic Center, a complex that offered employment services, moved in 2003.

The Rev. David Rocha of Camino de Vida United Methodist Church said the laborers will avoid the lot and will continue to gather nearby on the church’s front lawn, with the permission of church officials.

“Most [day laborers] are within walking distance,” Mr. Rocha said. “We don’t want to be arrested, so we are going to move just some steps, so [police] are not going to have an excuse. If arrests come, it is not our intention. It is going to be their action.”

In the meantime, city officials are directing the laborers to two formal CASA-run day-laborer centers in Wheaton and Silver Spring, and to Labor Ready, an employment center in Gaithersburg.

They also encouraged local faith groups to donate bus tokens to laborers.

The lot’s closing falls one day after the one-year anniversary of the Gaithersburg’s City Council’s first public meeting on opening a permanent center for the laborers.

Since then, about 30 property owners have blocked the plan by refusing to lease space for a center, and residents have complained that two other potential sites for the center were too close to homes and schools.

City Manager David Humpton yesterday said that he has found another site for a permanent center.

“But the bad news is I haven’t heard whether they’re going to lease it to us yet,” he said. “This is sort of the last viable spot we see unless someone comes forward to offer one. Then we would begin to work with the county to find something outside city limits.”

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