Two Apply to Run Herndon's Day-Laborer Site

By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 12, 2007

Herndon officials say they might name a new operator of their day laborer site, who would check the legal status of the workers, as early as Aug. 14, although when the change would take place remains unclear.

Town officials confirmed that they have received two applications from groups to run the center -- the subject of national furor and anti-immigration protests when it opened in 2005 -- but declined to release their names. Since launching the search for a new operator last fall, town officials have made it clear they want the new operator to check the legal status of workers. The site's current operator, Reston Interfaith -- a social service organization that manages the Herndon Official Workers Center under an agreement with the town and a grant from Fairfax County -- asks laborers to give just a name, address and telephone number.

The town was roiled by its decision to create the center and its practice of not ensuring that workers were legal, and a subsequent election favored officials who promised to change that.

Officials said they also hope the new operator can expand community services beyond the current outdoor pavilion and trailer and operate out of renovated rooms in the town's old police station.

Herndon resident and former Fairfax County vocational education instructor Dennis L. "Butch" Baughan has said he has applied and wants to create a workers center that will serve day laborers but also at-risk youths, high school dropouts, those with mental disabilities and men and women trying to move off welfare.

Baughan, 61, has 30 years of teaching experience, most of it in what became Fairfax's Education for Work program. He retired in 2001 and is now in real estate.

"I'm not going through a career change," Baughan said. "If anything, I'm going back to something that satisfies me in a way that real estate doesn't -- working with people to help them get a job. I think I have something to offer the community in that respect."

Baughan was a member of Help Save Herndon, which opposed the day-laborers site when it was proposed in 2005. He said he opposed the center because it served only a narrow part of the community. The scope should be expanded to include other workers' needs, he said.

"What I'm trying to do is to reach out and touch everybody in the community. . . . It certainly had nothing to do with Help Save Herndon," Baughan said. "I want to improve the center . . . not close it."

The immigration issue has raised tensions in the western Fairfax town of 23,000 people -- about a quarter of whom are of Hispanic descent -- since the Town Council voted to establish the day laborers center in summer 2005. By establishing a permanent place where the day laborers could find work, officials hoped to manage what had been an ad hoc and chaotic gathering of the laborers on busy Elden Street.

Since that time, Herndon has elected a mayor and two council members opposed to the idea of the center serving illegal immigrants. After establishing other measures aimed at curtailing illegal immigration, the new council began searching for an operator who would agree to check the legal status of the workers.

About 110 to 120 workers have been coming to the site each day in recent months seeking to be paired with business owners in construction and other fields, said Mary Supley Foxworth, communications director for Reston Interfaith.

"We're aware the town is looking for other providers. We know that's a possibility," she said. "We hope to continue operating."

Critics of the plan to replace Reston Interfaith with an operator that will check for legal documentation said it would force undocumented workers back to the streets and create other ad hoc gathering spots, such as the one on Elden Street that caused traffic backups and other headaches for neighbors.

"Common sense suggests that not very many of these workers are legal, and I fear they're going to be back on our streets," said Town Council member Harlon Reece, who opposes the idea of replacing Reston Interfaith. "I don't support illegal immigration, but as a Town Council member, my responsibility is to deal with the impact of illegal immigration on the town. I think I'm choosing pragmatism over ideology."

Vice Mayor Dennis D. Husch said that the town staff was evaluating the two proposals and that the council might vote to award the contract as early as Aug. 14. He said the move to begin checking legal status might temporarily put undocumented workers back on the streets, which would mean more work for police issuing tickets under the town's anti-solicitation ordinance. Eventually, the undocumented workers would simply stop gathering on the streets of Herndon, he said.

"It may be that way in the beginning, but I think people are fast learners," he said. "We shouldn't be using public property or public funds to support illegal aliens. It's as simple as that."

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