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What's Next: Back on the Streets?

Legal questions abound with day labor possibilities.

Minutes after hearing from representatives of the Herndon Official Workers Center last week on Wednesday of Fairfax County’s termination of the site’s funding, Jose Rivera leaned forward and wiped some of the sweat that had begun to collect on his forehead underneath his worn baseball cap.

"We’re going back to the corner, we don’t know what else we can do," Rivera said of his plans if the site is closed permanently. "Just because we’re immigrants here, we can’t walk in the streets to find work, we can’t try and help our families move forward? That is a crime apparently."

Rivera was one of the several workers present at the site that day who said that they would return to the streets of Herndon to solicit work if the site is closed, despite the common knowledge among workers that a local ordinance restricts that activity.

"If there is no center where anyone can go and find work, there can’t be a law keeping us out of the street … that would be illogical, that is legally prohibited," said Alberto Sanchez, a day laborer living in Herndon.

Herndon’s anti-solicitation ordinance, which prohibits informal street employment solicitations in town, was approved in 2005 along with the creation of the day labor site to keep workers out of town parking lots and streets.

Challenged in Fairfax County General District Court on grounds that it violated first amendment rights to free speech, the ordinance was ruled constitutional by Judge Lorraine Nordlund in March, provided a site where solicitations can occur exists. An appeal of that decision is still under review in Fairfax County Circuit Court.

While Herndon town attorney Richard Kaufman refused to comment on the validity of the ordinance in the absence of a day labor site, several Herndon Town Council members and Mayor Steve DeBenedittis have stated that the ordinance cannot be legally enforced without a site.

"Ordinances like those in Herndon have been deemed by federal courts to violate day laborers’ first amendment rights," said Chris Newman, director of legal programs for the Los Angeles-based National Day Labor Organizing Network. Newman and other NDLON representatives participated in an Aug. 3 rally in Herndon to support the current day labor site.

The NDLON has been actively involved with at least three cases where anti-solicitation ordinances have been overturned in federal court. In a 2005 federal ruling that involved NDLON attorneys, an anti-solicitation ordinance in Glendale, Calif., was overturned despite the existence of a day labor center, according to court records.

The looming legal battles are of secondary concern for Herndon resident and day laborer Domingo Sosa, who said that regardless, he must find a way to support himself and his family.

"We don’t have any place else to go," Sosa said. "Are we afraid of what the police might do? Sure. But we’re more afraid of starving to death."