Herndon Gets It Right

Saturday, August 20, 2005

IT SHOULD have been a simple town matter. Day-laborers congregate at a site that is unsafe for them and inconvenient for the community. A coalition of nonprofits and businesses presents a plan to shift the site to the parking lot of a soon-to-be-vacant police station. It's a less visible location where some order can be established and there's even a trailer where English classes can be held for immigrant laborers not out on a job.

The Herndon proposal is modest: a parking lot and a trailer, a few toilets, and a sheltered area with some picnic tables. But it sparked a national fight over immigration, complete with a nasty campaign instigated by a California talk radio host to swamp the phones at Herndon Town Hall; meetings that went on for hours; and even the huffing and puffing of gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore, a Republican, who said the proposed day-laborer center "rewards and encourages illegal behavior." (Memo to Mr. Kilgore: It's no "reward" to be a day-laborer, whether in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven or the parking lot of an old police station. It is unlikely that anyone will be "encouraged" to become an illegal immigrant just because Herndon has a place for day-laborers to be picked up without having to cluster around every passing vehicle.)

We applaud the five members of Herndon's seven-member town council who resisted the onslaught and wisely voted in favor of the formal day-laborer site. This was no small feat; some said it was the hardest vote of their political careers. All this, and the town of Herndon isn't even footing the bill -- the coalition that will run the center hopes to supplement existing private funds with $175,000 from Fairfax County's small pool of money already earmarked for day-laborer-related projects. The amount is negligible in the county's $3 billion annual budget, yet people rushed to spread the word that taxpayer money might indirectly benefit illegal immigrants.

It's all vaguely reminiscent of Chicken Little, who got so bent out of shape when that acorn fell on her head. Instead of determining what the real problem was, she figured the sky must be falling, and off she ran to tell everyone the dreadful news. The proposed day-laborer center is not the problem; it is a response to a condition created by an unrealistic federal policy that offers visas to no more than 10,000 unskilled workers a year when the jobs available number many times that. Stepped-up enforcement isn't necessarily the answer: Immigration should not be under the purview of local police, and federal authorities have come to the reasonable conclusion that raiding parking lots where immigrants gather to seek gainful employment need not be a priority.

Really concerned about illegal immigration? Don't blame the Herndon Town Council. Lobby the government or complain to the employers whose legal responsibility it is to check workers' documents. And then take a moment to glance up at the sky. It isn't falling.


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