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Proposed Day Labor Site Limits Draw Fire

Laborers, advocates warn of return to mass street solicitations.

Proposed changes for a new day labor site that may require job-seekers to show legal U.S. work authorization have drawn criticism from workers and day laborer advocates, who have warned that the requirement would cause a return to the mass informal street solicitations and possible legal challenges to an anti-solicitation ordinance passed when the original site was established.

“There are already plenty of places around here for workers with papers to find a job, but a lot of us can’t use them, so I don’t really see the point in this,” said Francisco, a laborer waiting for work at the Herndon Official Workers’ Center on Sterling Road who said that he did not have authorization to work in the United States. “This site was made for people who can’t find work somewhere else who were looking for jobs on the street.”

“Politically, I think that [the Herndon Town Council] just wants to throw us back out on the street.”

Herndon officials announced last week that a search had begun at the request of several council members for a new day labor site that would require workers to show legal citizenship or work authorization status. Council members want to make sure that any publicly-endorsed site caters only to United States citizens or legally authorized workers.

Critics have said that the proposal would force a large segment of the more than 125 workers who gather at the site daily to find work back to informal solicitations in private commercial parking lots and public street corners.

A PROBLEM WITH this proposal, according to Bill Threlkeld, director of the Herndon Official Worker’s Center, is that policy might be playing more towards ideology than practicality. Those who are illegal immigrants, he said, will seek out work regardless of the existence of a site.

“Whether they’re on the street or on the site, [workers’ legal status] is not going to change,” Threlkeld said. “They’re not going to stop looking for work, so if they’re not breaking the [federal immigration and labor] law here, they’ll be out breaking the [federal immigration and labor] law in the street.”

The main purpose of establishing the site was to get workers off the streets, Threlkeld said, who added that the site’s operation had done a “good job” in resolving the issue.

“Before we were here, people had stated that they didn’t even want to go to some of the shopping areas on Elden Street because of all the workers whistling them down and coming up to their cars,” he said. “For the most part, we have solved that issue.”

TOWN COUNCIL MEMBERS have said that any workers who return to informal street solicitations would be prosecuted for violating a local ordinance prohibiting such solicitations. This ordinance could be enforced even if a new site were established that required work status checks, according to Town of Herndon attorney Richard Kaufman and Chief Toussaint Summers of the Herndon Police Department.

The ordinance, passed in tandem with the establishment of the day labor site in September of last year, “works best if there is a preferred, regulated day labor site to allow anyone in the community a place to find work,” said Kaufman.

While there are “several” weekly violations of the anti-solicitation ordinance, an offense that carries with it a fine of as much as $1,000 and the possibility of up to six months in jail, unauthorized street solicitations are not a frequently-occurring incident, Summers said.

That could change if a new site is established that excluded a large number of workers from participating, Threlkeld said.

“If a new site operator is not available to a certain segment of the day laborer population, then you’d see an increase in workers on the street,” he said. “As long as no one is complaining, there is not a lot of attention.”

“If complaints from workers [about ordinance violation fines] begin increasing, they make look at challenging” the anti-solicitation ordinance, Threlkeld added.

IF WORKERS DID challenge the ordinance, they would not be traveling into unknown territory.

Anti-solicitation ordinances in two municipalities have already been found unconstitutional by federal judges in California, according to Chris Newman, director of legal programs for the National Day Labor Organizing Network based in Los Angeles, who added that his organization is aware of the issue of Herndon’s day labor site.

“To require people to show legal status to use public services is ludicrous,” Newman said. “What would come next? Requiring people getting on a school bus or using mass transportation to verify their legal status in this country?”

The right to seek out work through any medium is one that is guaranteed by the Constitution and cannot be affected by one’s immigration status, he said.

Herndon “has adopted a rather disturbing perception of reality where people have a differing level of rights based on their residency status in this country,” Newman added.

A FUTURE WITHOUT a regulated day labor site open to workers without authorization would simply cause a return to the streets to look for work, according to Francisco and Jose, two day laborers who said they would not be able to use a new site that required checks on work authorization.

“There would be people all over the streets, back to where we used to be,” Francisco said. “Where am I going to go? I have a family to support and bills to pay.”

For Jose, the prospect of requiring workers to show legal work status authorization doesn’t make sense.

“This world belongs to everyone, and everyone has the right to go and look to work wherever they want,” he said. “We come here to have a better way of life, to have a car, have a house, have security for our family.”

“I don’t understand why this is a big problem.”