Where Laborers Go, They Will Follow

Day laborers wait outside a Herndon 7-Eleven with Jennie Albers from Project Hope and Harmony, the group that will operate the new job site.
Day laborers wait outside a Herndon 7-Eleven with Jennie Albers from Project Hope and Harmony, the group that will operate the new job site. (By Alex Wong -- Getty Images)
By Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The taxpayer-financed day-laborer center is scheduled to open tomorrow in Herndon, and the president of the local chapter of the Minuteman Project said yesterday that his group will be there to continue photographing and investigating employers.

The Herndon Minuteman group already has been conducting surveillance at the town's informal labor gathering spot outside a 7-Eleven. Yesterday, George Taplin, president of the chapter, said his group had turned over the evidence gathered so far to several local and state agencies as well as the Internal Revenue Service. The group has focused its efforts on the companies that hire day laborers and are allegedly operating without the proper licenses.

Taplin said he would not identify the companies until "after the investigations have been completed."

An IRS spokesman has said that the agency would not comment on whether it had received information from the Minuteman group or on any investigation because of privacy issues.

The Herndon Town Council approved the new job center site in August, with the goal of moving the day laborers from the parking lot of the 7-Eleven to a more controlled area in the rear of a former police station. The emotional debate over the center emerged this summer as a rallying point for both sides of the contentious issue of illegal immigration.

There is a temporary trailer on the site that will be used as the center's office. And last week, two electricians were installing electrical and data lines at the site, which also has portable toilets and is expected to have portable heaters for the workers. Eventually, a shelter will be installed, possibly next month, said Bill Threlkeld, director of Project Hope and Harmony, a nonprofit group that will operate the job center.

"Everything is pretty much in place," Threlkeld said. "There are only a few last-minute details to work out. But we are ready for prime time on Wednesday."

The Minuteman group, a chapter of a national organization that fights illegal immigration, began showing up at the 7-Eleven in October, about twice a week, to photograph employers and workers. Taplin said the group plans to have someone at the new job center every day.

Taplin said that about 100 members have joined the chapter and that their presence has had an impact on the number of day laborers and employers who come to the 7-Eleven every day. "The number of workers congregating there now is less than a third of what it was when we started," he said. "And the number of potential employers has decreased even more."

Threlkeld said there has been a decline in the number of both workers and employers since the summer but that it was because of seasonal influence on the day laborer job market rather than the Minuteman group. "That's to be expected," he said of the decrease. The construction and landscaping industries, which provide the bulk of the work, are busier during warmer months.

Debate in Herndon over the day laborer issue intensified when the Town Council held hearings on the proposed site. Taplin said yesterday that Herndon Mayor Michael L. O'Reilly, some members of the Town Council and the police chief were practicing the politics of "appeasement" by giving the day laborers a job center.

He said that members of the group followed employers from the 7-Eleven to job sites and found that none of the job sites was in the town. He questioned why Herndon would sponsor the job center when none of the work was being done there.

O'Reilly said Taplin missed the point. "Well, what they need to do is kind of open their eyes and say, 'Do we have an unregulated site right now?' " O'Reilly said. "And the answer is yes. . . . Whether the employers are coming from Herndon, that's looking at it backwards. The issue that we are trying to address is that there are workers gathering on a corner now, and that is what we are trying to do something about."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company