EVERY MORNING in the parking lot of a Herndon 7-Eleven, 100 or so men enter into a sort of job seekers' state of nature, swarming incoming cars, jostling for a chance to perform a day's work. It's a necessary tactic for these day laborers; the ones who hang back don't get picked up. Of course, not every person who drives into the lot is a prospective employer, and the throng makes some customers uncomfortable.
Recognizing that such informal sites are a countywide problem, Fairfax County officials allocated $400,000 to help fund projects to assist day laborers. In response, a coalition of businesses, nonprofits and religious organizations has proposed a center for day laborers about a mile from the current site, in a parking lot behind a soon-to-be-vacated police station. It would not be as elaborate as the day laborer center in Montgomery County that has been operating successfully for more than a decade; the privately run Herndon center would consist of a trailer and a sheltered area with picnic tables.
Day laborers need a more orderly system to connect with employers, and the center could provide such a mechanism. Workers would also be able to register their specialties, so that an employer looking for a carpenter or an electrician could easily find someone with those skills. Throughout the day in a small classroom inside the trailer, English classes would help acculturate the day laborers, most of whom are immigrants from Latin America.
Yes, some are in the country illegally. But the center is not responsible for checking workers' immigration status; that is the employers' obligation. In fact, demand begets supply, and there is a lot of demand in Northern Virginia, where immigrant labor plays a big role in erecting those flashy new condominiums and office buildings.
Given that, it makes sense to create safe pickup sites. Some residents worry that nuisance crimes like public urination and trespassing will migrate to the new site. Project leaders respond that the center will have toilet facilities and workers will be warned not to cut through private property. If the Herndon Town Council gives the center the go-ahead, as we hope it will, the coalition plans to create a community advisory board with residents and workers to resolve any problems that arise. It may not be a perfect solution, but it's far better than the parking lot free-for-all that exists today.