A Nov. 19 Metro article about laborers arrested earlier in the week at a 7-Eleven in Woodbridge provided incorrect information about what happened to the three. One was charged with a misdemeanor and given a court summons. Two others could not provide proof of their identity and were held in jail; they have since been released on bond. (Published 11/20/04)
A second wave of arrests this week of Latino immigrants looking for jobs outside a Woodbridge 7-Eleven is drawing attention to the treatment of immigrants in Prince William County and pressuring officials to find an alternative day laborer site.
A town hall meeting is scheduled at 10 a.m. tomorrow at the Ferlazzo Building in Woodbridge and will include Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), and several state and county officials.
After the meeting, a group of day workers will meet at 1 p.m. to protest the arrests. Last month, 24 laborers were charged with loitering. On Monday, three more were charged.
Day laborer sites have caused debate in several jurisdictions undergoing rapid demographic change, such as Prince William, where Latinos have grown from 9 percent of the population to 16 percent in the past four years, according to county officials.
Prince William's practice of arresting Hispanic workers who congregate in hopes of getting day jobs has been criticized as counterproductive by immigration advocates and officials from other jurisdictions. At a time when ethnic gang violence is becoming a growing law enforcement problem, police should be trying to build ties with the Latino community, not sowing mistrust, these critics said.
Several county officials and residents defended the arrests, saying that the day worker site has become a disruption and that some laborers leave trash behind and urinate in a patch of woods nearby.
Board of County Supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton (R) said one of the biggest challenges is that there is no consensus on how to address the issue.
"We're essentially initiating a broader process to identify what exactly the situation is . . . but also, more generally, to reach out to what is becoming our fastest growing segment of the population," Connaughton said. "What I expect is that a dialogue will open up after this meeting on Saturday."
Some of the arrests have also had serious repercussions. Eleven of the men arrested last month were turned over to federal immigration authorities and face deportation. The three arrested Monday remain in jail, unable to make bond, but none was turned over to immigration, police said.
Few localities have adopted Prince William's tactic of using loitering laws to discourage day workers from crowding street corners or store parking lots.
Authorities in Arlington and Montgomery counties have tried to accommodate the needs of poor immigrants by providing official day laborer sites. But such jurisdictions as Herndon or Fairfax County have struggled to find a place for them.
Prince William police Capt. Tim Rudy said the arrests had nothing to do with the county's stance on immigration and were solely "a community maintenance issue."
"I think it's obvious that [the arrests] shed light on this issue and brought things to the forefront, which is a good thing," he said.
Rudy said officers repeatedly have told workers to keep off the 7-Eleven property after 9 a.m., when most businesses open. But the warnings have had little effect.
"We know [the arrests] are not the solution," he said. "We are treating more the symptoms than curing the problem. But it's hoped that this will quell the concerns of the community . . . and maybe in reality, the arrests are helping people work a little quicker on this issue."
Ricardo Juarez, a coordinator for the Workers Committee of Woodbridge, said the laborers continue to go to the 7-Eleven because they are desperate for work. He added that they are confused by the government response: On one hand, officials seemed to be reaching out to them by scheduling the town hall meeting. Then came new arrests, just days before that forum.
"It seemed like we were building good relationships with the authorities," Juarez said. "It's hard to understand. . . . [They are] just looking for work, who don't have much money for their families."
Supervisor Hilda M. Barg (D-Woodbridge), an organizer of the town hall gathering, said she is hoping that private organizations or charities will help solve the problem.
"The laborers need a job; the community needs the laborers," she said. "We just need to find a way to make the outcome of all of this positive."