Va. Day Laborers Being Photographed, Followed

By Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Unless he's on a job, Paul Lopez, a teacher by trade, heads to a 7-Eleven parking lot in Herndon a couple of times a week to wait for work. He was there Friday morning, dressed in paint-stained cargo pants, a shirt, a light jacket and a Washington Redskins cap.

Lopez, who is from Bolivia, said he lives in the United States because he can make "20 times" as much money painting and doing day-labor jobs as he earned in Bolivia teaching elementary, middle and high school. His family remains in Bolivia.

Workers have been a little uneasy coming to the 7-Eleven since day-laborer sites became politically controversial. But for many laborers, that unease has reached a new level.

Representatives of the Herndon chapter of the Minuteman Project, a national group that fights illegal immigration, began showing up last week at the site. On three mornings, including Friday, Minuteman members arrived about 6 a.m. with video and still cameras and walkie-talkies to document the activities of Lopez and other day laborers as well as the employers hiring them.

George Taplin of Herndon, leader of the local chapter of the Arizona-based organization, said the group plans to turn over its data to the Internal Revenue Service, perhaps as early as this week, so the IRS can check whether the employers are complying with tax regulations and reporting the wages paid to the day laborers.

"We are targeting the employers to stop hiring day laborers so we don't have them gathering in Herndon," he said. "If the employers stop coming and there is no work, they will have to go away. . . . What we want, bottom line in Herndon, is for the illegal aliens to leave. And if there is no work, they will."

Lopez said he did not like the Minuteman representatives there. "We are not here to do anything bad," he said through a translator. "We are just here to work. All we want is tranquility. They don't want us to work."

Since summer, when town officials in Herndon began to discuss spending taxpayer money to move the day laborers from the 7-Eleven to a more formal and controlled site, the issue of immigration and the government's role in it has spread from town hall meetings to national talk radio to the Virginia governor's race. The Minuteman group's decision to come to Herndon to monitor the day laborers has brought the debate back to town.

The Town Council approved a new day-laborer site in August, but it is not up and running. Assessments varied on how much impact the Minutemen's presence had last week on the existing gathering spot. Some community workers said the number of immigrants showing up each day might have declined, but it was not clear whether that was attributable to cooler weather and less demand for landscaping work or to the Minuteman Project's presence.

"There may have been some decrease, a little bit, in the number of contractors that are coming in to pick them up," said Edgar Rivera of the Tenants' and Workers' Support Committee, who visited the hiring site Wednesday morning.

Taplin said more than 60 people had joined the group. He said they will continue to monitor and photograph workers and employers, but he would not say how often or when they would be there.

"Does a general tell his enemy when he is going into battle?" Taplin asked.

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