Residents of the Autumn Glen and Stone Oaks neighborhoods held a meeting July 27 to get correct information about the proposed day-labor site that would neighbor their developments.
Organized by resident George Taplin, Mayor Michael O’Reilly, Chief of Police Toussaint Summers Jr. and Kerrie Wilson, CEO Reston Interfaith and executive council Project Hope and Harmony, were asked to provide information and answer questions.
Taplin prefaced the meeting by indicating it was held for the purpose of learning correct information from the appropriate officials. All issues pertaining to illegal immigration and comments focused on race would not be heard during the meeting, he said.
“This is an emotional issue,” said Taplin. “We’re going to get the facts and stick to the facts.”
O’Reilly began the meeting with a brief history of the current day-labor site and past suggestions for a solution. Prior suggestions were never acted upon, resulting in the current situation.
The issue is not the congregation of documented or undocumented workers, the problem is too many men standing on the street corner of Alabama Drive and Elden Street fighting for work every day, said O’Reilly.
“A success is to clean up Alabama and Elden and have a small regulated site operate on regulated hours at the police station in the parking lot,” he said. “What it comes down to is an unregulated site versus a regulated site, and I’m in favor of a regulated site.”
In the months leading up to Project Hope and Harmony’s application to the town, O’Reilly and other council members and town staff met with Fairfax County Supervisors and officials as well as Loudoun County Supervisors to discuss potential solutions, he said. Because of the communication, Fairfax County officials determined $400,000 would be allocated to the creation of formalized day-labor sites within the county. Herndon was one of the first sites selected to receive the money, said O’Reilly. The county has accepted bids for the site plan, but has not announced which organization would run the site in cooperation with the site manager Project Hope and Harmony has hired, said Wilson. It is still undetermined how much money the town will be given to establish a site, if approved.
“The focus is gaining order, control and regulation of an activity that has been going on for a decade or so,” said Wilson.
Wilson outlined Project Hope and Harmony’s site plan proposal. Each morning workers would review the approved code of conduct on site with the site operator, said Wilson. Workers would be reminded daily that it is against the law to cut through residential yards to get to the site, she said.
Because the county would fund the creation of the site initially, the site would be heavily monitored not only by the town but also the county to ensure code requirements were adequately met, she said. Once established, the town could create an ordinance that prohibits the solicitation of work either by car or by foot, deeming it illegal for workers to get work anywhere but the formalized site, said Wilson.
“Without a regulated site,” said O’Reilly, “our town attorney informed us such an ordinance would be struck down as unconstitutional.”
If workers do not find work for the day, they would be able to partake in English classes and other job-training courses to assist them in job skills as well as potentially find permanent work, said Wilson. Once the site closed down for the afternoon, workers would be required to leave.
Because the site is public property, police can take legal action if the workers do not leave after closing hours, said Summers. Because the current 7-Eleven property is private land, the police cannot take action unless the manager of the store calls the police, he said.
Police would also frequent the proposed site on a regular basis because they get gasoline from the public works building — next door to the proposed site, said Summers.
“The police department is very aware of the concerns and we have been planning for the ‘what ifs,’” he said. “We will do everything possible to make sure people do not infringe on your property.”
Police officers will make extra patrols in the neighborhoods surrounding the site, if approved, to ensure workers are adhering to the rules, said Summers. But, because officers cannot be everywhere at once, it is essential members of the community immediately call police if someone does trespass through their yard or commit a crime, he said.
“We can’t give a plan as such because we’re going to respond to the crime as it occurs — but we’re going to try to prevent it as best we can,” he said in response to requests for a plan of action. “We need the support of the community, we need the eyes and ears of residents to help.”
After O’Reilly, Wilson and Summers left the two-hour meeting, Taplin held a 20-minute ad hoc discussion with residents. Most residents said they were against the formation of the site, questioning if a site operating on town property and with taxpayer money was legal if it assisted undocumented citizens.