Compassion: A Community Value

Sunday, January 22, 2006

W e live around the corner from the Herndon 7-Eleven, where immigrant day laborers used to crowd the parking lot. No more. A nearby McDonald's that was another popular gathering place for day laborers similarly has returned to normal, the result of a courageous decision by Herndon's Town Council and mayor to allow a nonprofit, Project Hope and Harmony, to open an official day laborer site.

This sensible solution, however, turned Herndon into a flashpoint for national anti-immigrant groups. An influx of "white pride" protesters and Minutemen (a group best known for its vigilantism on the Mexican border) harassed the day laborers. Meanwhile, conservative talk show hosts nationwide urged listeners to call the Herndon Town Council, and the volume of calls forced the town to shut down its phone system temporarily.

This madness led us and other Herndon residents to form HEART -- Herndon Embraces All With Respect and Tolerance. While members of HEART have varying views about immigration policy, we agree that Herndon should have the right to solve a local problem without interference from national organizations. We believe that to create an organized site to replace disorder with order is the right approach. We support the right of day laborers to work, and we are cognizant of the dire conditions under which many of these laborers (and their families) live -- without health insurance, steady employment, vacation time or sick leave. The desire to work -- a basic American value -- should not subject anyone to antipathy.

Now a group called Help Save Herndon, along with the Minutemen, is putting together a slate of candidates for the town council. Their platform? Overturning the official day labor site.

These groups want to see police diverted from crime prevention to enforce federal immigration statutes. They endorse actions such as raiding homes to see how many people live in them and checking immigration papers primarily of Latinos -- a discriminatory act -- to see whether they are documented.

If Herndon were to redirect its police toward enforcing immigration laws, crime would increase as immigrant witnesses became afraid to come forward and victims feared reporting crimes. The costs to Herndon could be immense. Already, the town is using its tax revenue to defend itself against a lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch, another national group that opposes the day laborer site.

The anti-immigrant groups offer nothing to improve the quality of life in Herndon. On the contrary, they project an image of intolerance that is seen around the country. They financially burden the town with frivolous lawsuits, and they waste time shooting photographs to send to a government agency unlikely to have the resources or the time to do anything about them.

Help Save Herndon and the Minutemen accuse Reston Interfaith and Project Hope and Harmony of promoting the hiring of illegal immigrants, but the mission of these groups is to provide help to those in the community who are looking for nothing more than a little compassion.

Reston Interfaith, Project Hope and Harmony and other groups are working toward a better community. They coordinate the day laborer site and also are active in English-as-a-second-language programs, homeless shelters and the LINK program, which provides food assistance to the hungry. They care about the community and the people in it.

While the media have paid a lot of attention to the opponents of the day laborer site, it is the people involved in helping the needy who should be recognized as the beacons of what our community stands for and what we want our children to learn about being citizens.

-- Allen Benson -- Leila McDowell-Head

are Herndon residents and members of Herndon Embraces

All With Respect and Tolerance.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company