At the 7-Eleven in Woodbridge, where two-dozen day laborers were arrested in two raids last fall and charged with loitering, the crowd of men waiting for jobs has been thin.
Despite an agreement between the convenience store and a group representing the workers -- a pact that allows the men to wait on a small strip of land beside the store -- the laborers no longer feel welcome, said Nancy Lyall, legal coordinator for the Woodbridge Workers Committee. "It's kind of abysmal," she said.
The usual collection of more than 100 men who used to stand near the store has dwindled to a dozen. The rest have moved from the store and spread out along Route 1, into the parking lots of other businesses.
Although a Prince William County task force recommended that officials discuss the use of public funds to support a designated spot where the laborers -- most of them Latino -- could stand and wait for contractors to offer them jobs, the idea has gone nowhere.
No Prince William supervisor would place an item on the county board's agenda to request public funds for a center for day laborers.
Lyall said the workers committee thinks the laborers have overstayed their welcome at the store. Now that county officials apparently have decided against a publicly supported site, Lyall said the committee plans to open a privately funded center as soon as next month.
Fearing a backlash, she declined to disclose a location.
The committee has watched the nearby town of Herndon draw national attention and become an issue in the Virginia governor's race. Republican candidate Jerry W. Kilgore said Monday that Herndon and Fairfax County would be supporting illegal immigration if they funded a center in the town.
Meanwhile, the agreement between the workers committee and the 7-Eleven stands. The deal was struck the same day that the Prince William commonwealth's attorney's office agreed to drop charges against a dozen of the men, who had been charged with loitering at the store. Immigration officials retained seven workers; others, described as transient, never appeared in court on the charge.
Margaret Chabris, a spokeswoman for the Dallas-based 7-Eleven chain, said that until the workers committee establishes a permanent center, the men will be allowed to stand on the property of the Woodbridge store until about 11 a.m.
Chabris said 7-Eleven seems to be involved in the day-laborer issue across the country. "That's the price of being a convenience store with good access," she said.
She said that although 7-Eleven has tried to cooperate with workers and their advocates, it believes larger immigration issues are at play. "People want to be humane, but is that passively supporting illegal immigration?" she asked.