- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Immigration rights activists in Gaithersburg yesterday protested a crackdown on day laborers, but no arrests were made at the rally.

“The workers held a meeting and concluded that they did not want to risk arrest,” said Kim Propeack, a spokeswoman for CASA of Maryland, an immigrant-advocacy group. “I think that people are afraid of being arrested, and certainly some people have immigration issues related to that.

“But I think that the workers are a really strong community to the extent that the members wouldn’t want to create unrest,” she said. “They want to create a strategy that supports everyone.”

Miss Propeack was one of about three dozen laborers, religious leaders and supporters who marched yesterday to City Hall and demanded a meeting with City Manager David Humpton.

Police yesterday began enforcing trespassing laws at a parking lot outside a shopping center where laborers have been congregating after the property owners asked city and police officials to patrol the area in the face of pressure from nearby residents.

The lot is at 117 North Frederick Ave., between a strip mall and Grace United Methodist Church.

Residents complained that some of the men drank, urinated and trespassed on their property as they waited to be hired.

Most laborers yesterday stayed away from the lot, where 50 to 100 men — many of them Hispanic illegal aliens — typically gather for work, and no arrests or citations were issued.

A police officer posted inside the lot each morning “for the next couple of weeks” will ticket or arrest on trespassing charges anyone who is not a customer of the shopping center or going to the church, one official said.

The officers will not check the immigration status of those they arrest.

Grace United church leaders said laborers can wait on their front lawn for work, but police said contractors cannot enter the lot or park on the main road or residential streets beside the church.

“So really what it boils down to from the day laborers’ perspective is, they’re going to have to find another place to find pickups for hire,” said Gaithersburg Police Chief Mary Ann Viverette.

“This isn’t an immigration issue. It’s private property, and the owners have asked to get the shopping center back to normalcy,” Chief Viverette said. “We’re not targeting day laborers. For us, it’s just an issue of trespassing.”

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

City officials said that more than 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.

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