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Continuing Day Labor Education

Second day-labor site meeting raises questions, causes resident frustration level to rise.

Mirroring a forum held at the end of June, a public meeting about the creation of a formal day-labor site in town offered a display of emotions among Herndon and Loudoun County residents July 6.

While a majority of the opinions expressed exhibited frustration and anger, a selected few in the audience of roughly 50 people asked for public tolerance, expressing compassion for the town's day worker population.

"It saddens me, what I am hearing tonight," said Ruth Tatlock, Herndon resident, at the end of the two hour meeting held at the Herndon Fortnightly Library.

"There seems to be so much ill-will, almost hatred," she said about comments regarding the town's day labor population.

"We have said we don't want them at the 7-Eleven, so we have found a site and you don't want them there," said Tatlock. "They're not going away; what do you want, to close the town?"

Organized by long-time Herndon resident Dennis Baughn, the meeting was held to discuss a recent application for a formal day-labor site to be created in town.

Currently, day workers in Herndon unofficially gather at the 7-Eleven on the corner of Alabama Drive and Elden Street each morning to find work. But many residents of the area have expressed repeated concerns about the informal labor site, saying they want to see police or town action taken to prohibit workers from gathering.

"It's time to don the placards and start the petitions," said Susan Powell, Herndon resident. "Don't patronize the 7-Eleven, don't patronize Wachovia. Canvass the neighborhood and let your neighbors know to stay away from those businesses until they do something [about workers on site]."

The town's Planning Commission is presently reviewing an application for a conditional use permit to turn the Herndon Police station, once it is vacated by police, into a formal day-labor pick up site. The application was set to be reviewed at a July 11 public hearing, but because of improper notification to nine neighboring properties, the public hearing has been rescheduled to Monday, Aug. 1.

Submitted by Project Hope and Harmony, a group comprised of concerned residents, faith-based and non-profit organizations, the application is the first of its kind before the town.

"By having a formal site we can improve the current conditions," said Esther Johnson, executive council Project Hope and Harmony. "These men want jobs and have said they want a formal site."

SINCE ITS INCEPTION in September 2004, Project Hope and Harmony has worked quickly to find a solution for the town's unofficial day-labor site.

The group believes the Herndon Police station is the best location after it held numerous public meetings to brainstorm solutions, met with town and county officials, and hired a professional Realtor to look into properties around town.

The police station outweighed other properties based on its proximity to a major road, its accessible driveways and its availability once the police department moves to its new site, according to Project Hope and Harmony.

Because the Herndon Police Station is built half in Herndon and half in Loudoun County, the site will be constructed to operate along the Herndon portion.

But, neighboring Sterling residents and residents along Rock Hill Road — next to the police station — say they are just learning about Herndon's day labor population and the proposal. They do not agree the proposed site is the best location.

"All I see is the NIMBY syndrome, the 'not in my back yard' syndrome," said Aubrey Stokes, Rock Hill Road neighbor opposing the site. "Why does it have to be some place where nobody wants it?"

Most of the scheduled speakers on the agenda for the meeting on July 6 were in opposition of a formal site in town.

Those residents voiced concerns over the legal documentation of workers, the possibility of workers trespassing through yards as a short cut to the site, health and safety issues, and Project Hope and Harmony's effectiveness in regulating the site. Residents questioned if workers would frequent the new site, or if workers would be split between locations.

They also questioned whether building a formal site where undocumented workers could find work was legal under the Herndon town code.

"What I want to know is why we are wasting tax payer dollars to enlist the service of illegal workers?" said Stokes.

Stokes believes there is more crime in the neighborhoods surrounding the unofficial day-labor site based on his review of the town's police reports. He said an increase in crime would be associated with the creation of a day-labor site.

Representing Project Hope and Harmony, Johnson was the only person in favor of a formal site on Baughn's agenda to speak.

Explaining she was a long-time resident of Herndon, Johnson attempted to explain the group's motives. But almost every time she made a comment, frustrated audience members shouted accusations or questions and then snickered at her responses.

"We are trying to be sensitive to the Loudoun County residents who may not have been as familiar with the day labor issues because they are not a part of the town," said Joel Mills, executive council, Project Hope and Harmony after the meeting.

SINCE THE JULY 6 meeting, Mills said Project Hope and Harmony members are trying to address two issues — the comments made during the meeting and the postponement of the Planning Commission public hearing originally set for July 11.

"We're concerned that the folks with questions need to have the opportunity to see information about this issue that is accurate," he said. "Obviously during [the July 6] meeting there was a lot of confusion about what the day labor issues are, and what a site is about."

After the open-mic portion of the meeting, Erin Anderson, who calls herself an immigration activist, offered statistics — all against undocumented immigrants — listing surveys taken from California and Texas to Alabama, Arizona and numbers from a recent Fairfax County survey.

Asked by Baughn to speak, Anderson, a former consultant and senior analyst for national security issues, is an Arizona resident who now speaks about immigration issues.

Citing various health statistics, Anderson said the country has seen an increase in drug-resistant tuberculosis cases, an increase in leprosy cases and other deadly disease cases. Anderson said this increase is directly related to undocumented citizens coming across the borders.

But Michelle Milgrim, assistant director patient care services Fairfax County Health Department, questioned what source her disease statistics of undocumented workers came from.

"We do not ask individuals if they are legal or not, that is against our guidelines," Milgrim said about her branch of the county health department.

A part of the county's Health Care Network, the Patient Care Services program provides health care services to families without insurance, said Milgrim, adding these are patients that cannot get care anywhere else.

County health officials are not concerned about documentation, but about addressing health issues to ensure the overall good health of the community, she said.

In Fairfax County there has been no substantial increase in the amount of tuberculosis cases reported, said Milgrim. She added 95 cases of tuberculosis were reported in the county last year — a number consistent with previous years' statistics. Fairfax County saw a small number — less than one percent — of drug-resistant tuberculosis cases last year, said Milgrim. She has not been informed of any cases of leprosy in the area.

"In order to extract and cite numbers of this population, it's just not possible," she said of health statistics for undocumented citizens. "There are no numbers on that for this population."

DURING THE MEETING Anderson cited various laws, saying Herndon police and town officials were lying when they said they could not enforce immigration issues and arrest undocumented citizens. She also said the worst thing to do to relieve the day labor issues is to build a formal site.

"Essentially, if you don't build it, they will not come," she said.

"I would thoroughly discourage you from even having it here at all," she said. "There is no good for having it. By having it, it will only work as a magnet for more day laborers to come."

Barbara Glakas, Herndon resident, questioned Anderson's understanding of Herndon law.

"People here are now thinking that the police can go up to day laborers and ask for their papers and detain them," said Glakas. "And they can't do that."

Toussaint Summers, Jr., Herndon Chief of Police, said Anderson's interpretation of the law was inaccurate.

"What people are forgetting is that even INS has to have probable cause to ask for documentation," said Summers.

For the police to ask for a person's documentation, officers have to be "investigating some part of a reported crime or have reasonable suspicion that a crime is about to be committed," said Summers.

Summers, also the head of the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force, said because the Herndon police station acts as the task force's headquarters, the police have frequent interaction with federal immigration agents. He said immigration agents regularly drive by the unofficial day-labor site at the 7-Eleven when in town.

"I don't recall any [gang activity] action being taken with the day laborers," he said about public comment that some day laborers are also gang members. "We have a very good dialogue and relationship with the day laborers. We're active with community policing and they are a part of our community."

Addressing resident concerns about trespassing, Summers said if the police are told where the cut-throughs are and what times they are most busy, they will work to place an officer on site to discourage future trespassers.

If a formal site were to be approved in town, Summers repeatedly said the police would aggressively enforce a proposed town ordinance to prohibit worker solicitation outside of the designated site. He also said if crime-related issues arose on the proposed site, the Herndon police have a legal right to pursue a perpetrator into neighboring jurisdictions.

"We deal with crime on jurisdictional boundaries daily — Herndon is only 4.2-square miles," he said.

"Everybody has got to realize it's not only the police's job all by itself, it's the government and the community's job to work together," he said. "If we don't sit back and point fingers at everybody and instead start getting involved, we can work through this."