The Herndon Town Council has renewed the lease of the Neighborhood Resource Center, which provides social services for immigrants, despite protests from residents who contend the center is attracting additional undocumented workers to the area.
The lease proposal passed 6 to 1, with council member Ann V. Null casting the opposing vote. She argued that tax money should not be spent to support something that she believes is drawing illegal immigrants. Null has advocated shuttering the center and moving some of its programs to properties that the town owns.
But Mayor Michael O'Reilly said the decision was easy. The new lease, which splits the operating costs of the center between Fairfax County and Herndon, will add more floor space at a lower cost to the town.
"The Neighborhood Resource Center offers valuable services . . . not only in the town of Herndon but to western Fairfax County," he said. "To say you should shut it down because you disapprove of some of the people who are receiving these services is at best ridiculous."
The center hosts about two dozen social service programs, including English language classes, after-school tutoring and mentoring programs, and health care programs for pregnant women and infants. Most are run by nonprofit or interfaith groups.
During after-school hours, the 6,750-square-foot center in the Dulles Park Shopping Center on Elden Street is often packed with low-income families and children seeking help. Spanish, Arabic and other foreign languages are heard almost as frequently as English.
Space became so tight that programs fought with one another, said Elizabeth Hagg, Herndon's director of neighborhood resources. Under the new lease, the center will gain 919 square feet, which will provide another multipurpose room and storage space.
The old lease required Herndon to pay $103,355 and Fairfax $74,000 annually. Now the county and town will each pay $102,420 a year, and the lease will be extended to 2012, Hagg said.
Although town officials characterized the center issue as "minor" compared with other problems the council is facing, it still sparked a sharp debate over immigration in Herndon.
Once a farming hamlet, Herndon has the highest proportion of foreign-born residents of any jurisdiction in the Washington region -- 38 percent of its 22,000 people, according to the 2000 Census. During the 1990s, its Latino population alone grew 264 percent, while the proportion of non-Hispanic white residents dropped from 78 percent to 58 percent.
Null said that town policy is increasing Herndon's population of undocumented workers. Last September, she was formally censured by the council for characterizing immigrants as "cooks, maids, janitors and gardeners." But Null has vocal supporters in Herndon who often speak out during council meetings.
Hagg said that the center is "designed to be open to everyone," not just immigrants, although as recent arrivals, they tend to have a lot of needs.
Added O'Reilly, "We are getting more space for less money. I don't really understand where the debate is. . . . The economics of the situation are that a lot of the people who have come here more recently need social services."