Day Labor Debate Surfaces

Day Labor Debate Surfaces

Town Council addresses day labor site for first time this year at Tuesday work session.

At a Town Council public hearing Oct. 26, Planning Commissioner Bill Tirrell came before the council to ask it to look into possible zoning violations of the current "un-official" day laborer site at the 7-Eleven off of Elden Street and Alabama Drive — where he said day laborers are spreading to nearby locations.

"Please have the temporary assembly site for day workers, centered on the parking lot of the 7-Eleven store located on the southeast corner of Elden Street and Alabama Drive, conform to the town's zoning ordinance — or have it shut down," he said before the council. "I would appreciate receiving a written response within 60 days that details your plan of action."

Mayor Michael O'Reilly said that although the issues of finding a formal day labor site have been circulating for years through the town, the council's Nov. 16 work session was the first time the current council has addressed the issues.

"It's a terribly difficult issue," he said. "And a very divisive issue, or at least it has been in the last two years."

To start the discussion, O'Reilly listed various Fairfax County meetings, Herndon faith-based meetings and even a national day labor advocate's presentation he and other council members have attended to learn more about the issues and try to find a solution for Herndon.

"I can tell you there's no decision," said O'Reilly of the latest Fairfax County meeting he attended. "It's clear to me the county is engaged but they are not engaged at a point yet where they're going to say 'hey here's what we're going to do.'"

O'Reilly emphasized after attending the meetings that it is important for the town to remember the local issues and not become weighed down by national problems, such as proper documentation, issues of deportation and work permits.

"I see the problem as too many people on the street corner," said O'Reilly, listing some issues like littering, drunk in public and loitering that have concerned residents.

In response to Tirrell's request, O'Reilly said enforcing zoning regulations is "not really an issue," and that "even if it were able to, we would run into enforcement problems," because of laws outside of Herndon.

COUNCIL MEMBER Carol Bruce said she thinks the town needs to keep up the dialogue between the county, which currently has no regulations against official or un-official day labor sites.

"I don't want to stop that communication," she said about the slow but steady process. "But I think we need to be ready to offer a site."

Bruce mentioned the current Herndon Police Station, which will become vacant once the new station is constructed. This site is optimal, Bruce said, because it is out of the residential areas, in an area that has food available and is a secure site where most contractors looking for workers currently pass to reach the 7-Eleven.

But, until the police department — or any other site is available — Bruce said the town needs to show residents it is actively working on a solution and suggested a police presence during peak business hours.

"The problem with the day labor site as it currently exists is people do not feel safe because of it," she said. "What we're looking at is how to identify the problem and craft a solution — we cannot solve the problems of society, we cannot solve the problems of the country at Herndon's level."

Council member Dennis Husch said he thinks the work that's been done at the town staff level is a necessary step in solving the local issue, but he believes the community needs to take part as well.

"We need to get past the 'throw 'em all out, illegal aliens, bad actors'," he said about certain expressed views. "We need to get past all that and get to problem solving."

OTHER CONCERNS raised by council included the current Prince William County regulations where the police are trying to enforce a no loitering policy after 9 a.m. at two 7-Elevens in Woodbridge.

Herndon Police Captain Bradford Anzengruber, at the request of council member Ann Null, told the council although the Prince William police arrested 22 men on site, 11 were released, 11 had no documentation and two came up in the computer with information regarding deportation.

But, Anzengruber said, after speaking with enforcement in the area, they have seen no decrease in the amount of workers present at the un-official day labor locations.

Null said she believes that consistent enforcement, not only on site but also pertaining to the issues of overcrowding, is "a tool we can use."

Expressing concerns about the illegal immigration issue, Null said she thinks "we have pandered and exasperated the problem," making the town more attractive to workers who may not have permanent jobs and move to Herndon for temporary work.

In response, council members Bruce and Husch both expressed their disapproval of Null's statement.

"I have not pandered and I absolutely abhor that allegation," Husch said pounding the table.

Council member Steven Mitchell said he has noticed a concern by residents that the town is not actively working on the issue.

"I think there's a lot of work that has gone on un-noticed by the public, and I think people think we've been sitting on our hands," he said. "We've not been sitting on our hands ... we need to find a day labor site and do it right for the town to provide the site."

In response to Null's comment that overcrowding and the day labor sites are related and that the town needs to increase residential inspections, Mitchell reiterated "overcrowding goes beyond one single immigrant group in this town and goes beyond the group of people at the 7-Eleven."

He added the town cannot and should not focus on enforcing laws "that the federal government isn't enforcing themselves," saying "we don't have the resources and it's just not our job."

"I think we need to designate the site and put a foot forward and say we're going to put it here," said Mitchell about the council's eventual role. "We also need to be clear that this is a day labor site for employment, we are not getting into social services."

IN AN ATTEMPT to discuss the concerns expressed by the community and day laborers, the Herndon Police Department held a community meeting Nov. 14 at the Neighborhood Resource Center.

The second of its kind, the meeting did not have the same turn out as the first summer gathering, where everyone was able to talk away from the chaos of the 7-Eleven parking lot.

Although the meeting was brief and included only Reston Interfaith members and the Herndon Police, police Sergeant Michael Berg talked about the success of the summer's meeting, saying it gave officers a chance to dispel rumors among day laborers while listening to their concerns.

Amy Langrehr, day labor coordinator for Reston Interfaith, was present at the meeting and is one of the main people involved with the communication between the day laborers.

Langrehr said when the issues of the site spreading to the McDonalds and neighboring gas stations began she spoke with workers about the problem, but because it is a largely transient population she would speak to them again about staying at one site.

The next community meeting regarding the day labor issues will be held Thursday, Nov. 18 by Hope and Harmony, an interfaith neighborhood organization working to facilitate day labor site discussions and find a solution to the increasing problem. The meeting will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the ADAMS Center in Sterling, anyone interested can attend.