Concerns about property values, illegal immigration and human rights collided last night in Herndon as passionate advocates for and against a tax-supported site for day laborers lined up in an effort to sway the Town Council.
Nearly 150 people who had signed up to speak crowded into the town’s small municipal building for the fourth night of public hearings this summer, as the council considered how to resolve problems created by scores of immigrants congregating outside a 7-Eleven to seek construction work.
The number of speakers, each allotted three minutes, prompted the council to postpone a vote on the issue, which has overwhelmed the town with publicity.
As people waited to take their seats in the cramped council chambers, zoning officials covered the often-dry details of the proposal from a local social service agency to set up an organized gathering spot for day laborers that would replace the current unofficial site.
But outside the chambers, the battle lines were evident between advocates and opponents of a publicly funded site. Supporters stood on one side of the street, carrying signs that read “Ignorance Breeds Fear,” referring to anti-immigrant sentiment. A crowd gathered on the other side wearing, on their shirts, white paper stars with a slash through the phrase “Day Labor Site.” One sign stated: “Start a Revolution and Hire an American.”
Town officials—responding to homeowners who complained about noise, littering and an intimidating presence of up to 150 men every morning—considered a proposal from Project Hope and Harmony to establish a day-laborer hiring center on the site of a vacated police station abutting a residential neighborhood on the Loudoun County border.
But tensions over using $175,000 in public money to help fund the center exploded this summer at several public hearings.
Herndon, a former dairy farm community less than 20 miles from Washington, counts foreign-born residents as 38 percent of its population, according to the 2000 Census. The proportion of white residents dropped in the 1990s to 58 percent from 78 percent.
“There’s an us-against-them feeling that is full-blown in Herndon right now,” said Jose Vanegas of Sterling, a Colombian immigrant who has worked with the laborers. “People feel you’re either for them or against them.”