A group of Herndon residents that is part of the national Minutemen organization is planning to patrol day laborer hiring sites in the town and report illegal immigrant workers and their employers to authorities.
An offshoot of the Arizona-based Minutemen Project, which launched civil patrols to stem illegal immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border this year, the Herndon group says it will gather evidence of immigration and employment violations by photographing illegal workers and those who hire them.
"The ultimate goal is to rid Herndon of illegal aliens," said the group's leader, Herndon resident George Taplin.
With the formation of the group, tensions over day laborers and illegal immigrants reached another peak in Herndon, where plans for an official hiring site launched a vitriolic debate this summer that spread from town hall meetings to national talk radio.
Kerrie Wilson, who sits on the executive council of Project Hope and Harmony, the nonprofit group that will operate the planned job center, said she has received several calls from laborers and employers who are worried about the patrol. She said she and members of her staff have informed them of workers' rights and discussed "conflict avoidance."
She said she did not know whether the patrols would discourage workers from gathering in public.
"Certainly, workers are concerned now, but it's just too much to say" what the effect will be, Wilson said. She added: "We believe this is an attempt to provoke a reaction. And, frankly, mostly what we're focusing on right now is getting the center up and running."
The planned center for day laborers, approved by the Herndon Town Council in August, will occupy town property behind a former police station. It is meant to replace an informal site that has long existed in a 7-Eleven parking lot, where as many as 150 people -- most of them Central and South American men -- gather each morning.
Taplin said more than 50 volunteers, who are all Virginia residents but whose names he would not divulge, will begin staking out informal hiring sites and trailing laborers to their work sites in about two weeks. He said they will compile a database of photographs and record the names of companies hiring workers, then give the information to federal immigration authorities, local law enforcement and other agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service.
Taplin said the volunteers would avoid confrontation. They will be told that they cannot carry firearms, he said. "We're here to collect data, and that's it," he said.
Taplin said the group would also follow workers home to document possible zoning violations, such as overcrowding.
Taplin said he met with Herndon Police Chief Toussaint E. Summers Jr. to assure him that the patrols would not cause disruptions or hurt anyone. Neither Summers nor a police spokesman was available to comment on the group yesterday, Police Capt. Brad Anzengruber said.
Herndon Mayor Michael L. O'Reilly did not return a phone call after a message was left with a town spokeswoman.
"Law enforcement is best left up to professionals," said Dean Boyd, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, when asked what the agency would do with reports from the Minutemen about illegal immigrants. "Obviously, we do welcome tips from the public, but obviously, we have to run down the information and verify it."
Wilson said the hiring center is scheduled to open in December. She said she thinks the Minutemen's attention is focused in the wrong place.
"I think the real issue is, of course, that for folks that have questions about immigration and the immigration system, the answer is down the street from Herndon, in the halls of Congress and the White House," Wilson said.
Taplin, who is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the town that seeks to block the hiring center, said he was inspired by a Minuteman effort in Houston, which he said steered workers away from official hiring sites. The patrol project will be called "Operation Spotlight," as it was in Houston.