The Herndon Planning Commission was considering a proposal last night to create a tax-supported site for day laborers over the objections of residents who believe such a site would attract undocumented workers.
The commission was expected to take an early-morning vote after hearing more than 80 speakers who had signed up to give their views. It was the third night of public hearings on the proposal, and critics of the plan far outnumbered supporters. Opponents of the plan also came with petitions signed by hundreds more, most of them residents near where the site would be located.
The debate was a warm-up for another hearing that will be held in two weeks, when the Town Council votes on the matter.
If approved by the council, the site on the Loudoun County line would replace an unofficial gathering spot near a convenience store about a mile away. The town of 22,000 residents faces a difficult choice. Although officials have said they would prefer to close the existing site and ban such solicitations entirely, the only legal way to do that is to create a zone in which the activity is permissible.
The crowd last night was not nearly as large or as noisy as the one that turned out Monday night. There was no chanting or shouting last night. But people were emotional in their reactions to the plan.
"I am a legal immigrant," said Krish Karunakaram, who has lived for two years in a house directly behind the proposed site. "I'm not against any community. I appreciate the desire to help day laborers, but it should not be at the cost of others."
Among those who spoke against the plan was Tom Fitton, director of Judicial Watch, who told the commission: "If the citizens can't convince you to obey the law, perhaps a lawsuit can."
Supporters of the plan said that its critics do not represent the sentiment of most residents.
Michelle Grise, 45, an office manager who lives in Loudoun, held a sign that said, "Human beings are not illegal."
"As in a lot of recent battles, the people who are the most vocal are not necessarily the majority," she said. "The opposition is very well-organized."
The new site would be run by Project Hope and Harmony, an umbrella group of nonprofit organizations, social workers and religious groups. The group has applied for a $175,000 grant from Fairfax County and expects to appeal to private donors to cover most of the rest of the $280,000 annual cost.
In its application, Project Hope and Harmony laid out a series of steps designed to eliminate the disorderliness that exists when contractors and homeowners pull into the convenience store's parking lot and quickly are swarmed by laborers seeking jobs.
In its place would be a system in which as many as 150 day laborers would be allowed on the site. A lottery would be held to decide the order in which the workers are called for arriving contractors and homeowners, who would have to register at the entrance.
At least two social workers would be on the site during the hours of operation from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m., seven days a week. They would teach classes in English and job skills to workers waiting their turn.
Bill Threlkeld, director of Project Hope and Harmony, said two portable toilets would be at the site. There also would be sanctions for any worker who arrives inebriated or who trespasses on private property en route to the site, he said. Staff members for the town planning department recommended erecting an aerial photograph of the neighborhood on the site, with suggested sidewalk routes outlined.
The precautions have not allayed the concerns of many neighbors. They have said they fear that their property values will be negatively affected.
The proposal has attracted opponents from outside Herndon. Some have come from Loudoun, where at last three unofficial day-laborer sites have sprung up, and complained at the hearings that their neighborhoods will be adversely affected, too.
But Julie Brunson, a mother of three who lives in Herndon, said that whatever its shortcomings, the proposed site would be an improvement.
"If you build it, it will be managed," she said. "It won't solve all the issues, but it will address many."
Residents of Fairfax County have come to the hearings to object to using taxpayer money for the benefit of an unknown number of undocumented workers. Project Hope and Harmony will not ask the workers to provide proof that they are in the country legally, contending that is the responsibility of contractors. National groups opposed to U.S. immigration policy have threatened to sue if the site is approved.