Herndon’s Town Council, in an effort to allow local officials to get tough on enforcing immigration laws, passed a resolution last Tuesday advising Virginia’s legislative body to strengthen already-existing laws targeting illegal immigrants and residential overcrowding violations.
Some of the changes being suggested by the legislative program, a package of suggestions for state policy makers, would make any day labor site that does not require official checks of work authorization status illegal.
If the provisions are passed by the state’s legislative body next year, the Herndon Official Workers Center would be forced to change its current policies or risk violating the new laws.
Other suggestions in the legislative proposal would grant the town attorney with the authority to enforce state labor laws and increase the amount of maximum fines tied to criminal penalties of overcrowding, according to the resolution, which was passed by a 6-1 vote, with council member Harlon Reece the dissenting voice.
"Insufficient State law exists to prohibit employers from hiring employees who are not legally eligible to work in the United States," the resolution read.
The resolution was passed with the hope that legal residents of Herndon would be granted preference and protection from illegal immigrants, said town council member Charlie Waddell.
"What we’re trying to do is protect the American workers from being undermined by illegal aliens soliciting work in the town," said Waddell of the suggestion to toughen the immigration enforcement. "At the same time, we’re trying to protect those individuals who may be more easily exploited by contractors who would try and take advantage of their illegal status."
THE EFFORTS of the town to make immigration labor laws more strict and to punish those who would hire them is the latest effort by Herndon Town Council to target illegal immigrants in what has been described by several members as a concentrated push to get anyone without legal authorization to be in the country out of the Town of Herndon.
"We‘re not playing games here," Herndon Vice Mayor Dennis Husch said. "Those who do not have legal authorization to be in the United States will not be welcome to use public facilities."
If it is to become law, the legislative program will most likely be proposed by Del. Tom Rust (R-86), who will then be responsible for championing its passing, said town attorney Richard Kaufman. The program would need to be approved by Virginia’s General Assembly that meets next year before becoming law.
Previous legislative programs from the Town of Herndon dealing with several issues such as increases in overcrowding penalties and authority to impose certain utility taxes have passed successfully, Kaufman added.
Rust said that he did not have any specific comments as he had yet seen the proposed legislative program as of Monday. He added that he heard of the basics of its content through local media reports, but would need to officially review the legislation before deciding if he would introduce it.
WHILE THERE are no official statistics of the number of workers who would no longer be able to utilize a site that required official checks of work authorization status, more than 100 laborers on average gather at the site each morning looking for work, according to figures released by Project Hope & Harmony, the site’s operator.
The site had originally been established under its current rules to alleviate the swelling number of day laborers from gathering on private property to solicit work, according to former council members who supported the site.
If the legislative program is adopted by the state’s legislature, any worker without work authorization status would be barred from using a day laborer’s site in Virginia, regardless of the source of its funding.
Any new law requiring local authorities to clamp down on illegal immigrants looking for work could be enforced by police officers, according to Herndon Chief of Police Toussaint Summers.
"We are professionals and as professionals we deal with each situation as it is presented to us," Summers said. "That being said, I think that we are equipped to enforce any law that is passed by our politicians … that is what we take an oath to do."
"If we needed to, we could always ask the Town Council for greater support to put more police on the street, but that is all speculation at this point."
THE PROPOSED legislation is about confronting illegal immigrants living and soliciting work in Herndon and sending them a clear message that Herndon will not tolerate their presence anymore, according to Husch.
"I think the previous Town Council had the strategy that if they created a day workers hiring site, they would get the workers off the street and that would push the problem away," Husch said. "The problem is not that there are workers on the street, but that there are illegal aliens living in Herndon, and we prefer to eliminate that problem."
Any effort by workers turned away from a new site who would solicit work on the streets would be arrested under the town’s anti-solicitation ordinance, passed in conjunction with the establishment of the original day labor site, he added.
"If there are dozens, if there are multiple dozens, if we’re going to have 50 people looking for work on the street, then we’ll have 50 arrests," Husch said. "People without the right to work will realize pretty quickly that this is not the place where they will want to be."
Dealing with the illegal immigration issue through the proposed legislation is a matter of public safety for the town, said Waddell, who added that if illegal immigrants had already displayed a lack of respect for some laws they would be more likely to violate others.
"If they come into this country ignoring our laws from day one, I don’t see them as having any respect for our other laws," he said.
Waddell added that the main objective of the Town Council is to address illegal immigration as a local problem.
"I don’t think we’re dealing with the national problem of illegal immigration, I think we’re dealing with a local issue that people in the community have expressed outrage and a desire for change," Waddell said. "We’re trying to address the problems that take place in 4.8 square miles, and we want to be able to do what we can to fix it."
"We’re not trying to change the nation here."