- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2007

About two dozen demonstrators gathered outside a D.C. Zoning Commission meeting last night to object to plans to place a day-laborer center in a Northeast shopping plaza.

“I do not want to see a day-labor center in the area,” said Pat Smith, a program analyst who lives a block from the proposed site, near a Home Depot at 901 Rhode Island Ave. NE. “I don’t want to see my taxpaying dollars going to illegal immigrants.”

D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr., Ward 5 Democrat, plans to spend $500,000 in city funds for the project, which he says would also provide employment and job-training services for area residents.

Protesters yesterday chartered a bus from the Brentwood neighborhood where Mr. Thomas has proposed building the center to One Judiciary Square in Northwest, where the zoning commission is headquartered.

They arrived at about 5:45 p.m. and stood in a semicircle, chanting and holding signs that said “$500,000 for what” and “no centers equals peace.”

The effort was organized in part by the ad hoc group DefendDC, which opposes illegal immigration.

To “have a District facility that allows this to go on under the protection of the D.C. government is an outrage,” said William Buchanan, a city resident and one of the group’s founders. “It is a defiance of federal law.”

Pedro Cruz, who lives in Ward 5, showed up to support the plans for the day-laborer center.

“It will serve the African-American community who live in that area as well as Latino immigrants looking for jobs. It could be a model for the rest of the country,” he said.

Raymond Chandler, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in the area, said his constituents oppose the center because employment services are already available in the neighborhood and because the laborers congregating in the area are doing more than just looking for jobs.

“What we need is for those lawmakers to enforce laws,” he said. “We have people defecating, urinating, sleeping behind people’s homes. We have people living in fear. My community is outraged.”

The Zoning Commission last night was scheduled to hear a request by Israel Manor Inc., a nonprofit operated by Israel Baptist Church in Northeast, to allow a change in regulations that would permit the establishment of a senior citizens home near the shopping plaza.

But Israel Manor has been announced as a partner in the plans for the day-laborer center. Protesters said they fear the zoning switch would lead to a plan that would allow the day-labor site in the area.

Carrie Thornhill, Israel Manor’s managing director, said the church’s organization does plan to support and possibly partner with Mr. Thomas in plans for the day-laborer center. But she said the zoning issue had nothing to do with the center.

“They worry that the rezoning would help facilitate [Mr. Thomas] putting the multicultural center in on that shopping site, and I don’t think that’s what the council member intends to do,” she said.

Mr. Thomas said the two proposals were not connected and that DefendDC has “misrepresented the issue.”

“My question to them is ‘What … do they have to help solve the problems that exist in the community that we’re trying to bring a positive resolution to?’ ” Mr. Thomas said. “For them to come out and be involved the way they are is really disingenuous to the community.”

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