In the orderly world of suburbia, the intersection of Alabama Drive and Elden Street in Herndon smacks of chaos.
Every morning, 150 or so men cluster on sidewalks and in parking lots, offering their strong backs and calloused hands for hire.
This picturesque little town near Dulles International Airport is in a quandary over how to manage those men at this site, which has grown unruly and overcrowded. Many who live on nearby streets in small, trim ranch and two-story houses want the day laborers gone. And a proposal to create a designated site for the workers in another neighborhood has caused an uproar among some people who are trying to block the move.
Residents agree that something must be done, for the sake of the town and the day laborers themselves. The informal site in a 7-Eleven parking lot is a source of simmering anger and frustration for many neighbors, and even those who sympathize with the laborers recognize the problems associated with the site.
Bob Rudine goes to a park to pick up empty beer bottles, which he believes are left by day laborers who do not find jobs. Lidia Gonzalez’s daughter rarely ventures outside because she says some laborers have whistled at her.
The often emotional discourse reflects a small town undergoing a big transition.
Herndon has the highest proportion of foreign-born residents of any jurisdiction in the region—38 percent, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. More than one-fourth are Latino, and the proportion of whites dropped in the 1990s from 78 percent to 58 percent. Many residents have lived in Herndon for decades and remember when it was a sleepy burg amid dairy farms.
The change is particularly visible around the 7-Eleven store. People call it the “states” area, because several streets have such names as Alabama, Florida and Missouri. Most houses are small starter homes. Many Asian immigrants moved into the neighborhood after the Vietnam War. In the past decade, most newcomers have been Latinos.
Rudine, 62, a retired computer technician, has lived on Alabama Drive since 1978. His house, surrounded by a wild profusion of flowers in his yard, is one block from the 7-Eleven. He laments the neighborhood that no longer exists, when he knew everyone on the block and children walked unaccompanied to the convenience store for Slurpees.
“I came out here the other day and it dawned on me: Kids don’t come out here anymore,” said Rudine, as he walked onto an adjacent school baseball field, past dozens of cases of beer bottles piled around a trash bin. “Twelve years ago, it was packed with kids.”
Rudine says he believes that some day laborers drink there if they do not find work. “Who else would be there?” he said.
Near the proposed site, the fear is palpable.
“People are panicking,” Jim Upson said. “Five houses in my neighborhood are for sale now. Prices are dropping. No one’s buying.”
For weeks, town officials, including the mayor and police chief, have made repeated visits to the neighborhood of handsome brick homes to calm jittery residents. So have staffers from Reston Interfaith and Project Hope and Harmony, two nonprofit groups that plan to operate the site and offer services to the immigrants. At one meeting last week in a development clubhouse, residents submitted almost 70 questions in writing.
No. 12: “Why do we have to have a day laborer site?”
No. 14: “Are the town or Hope and Harmony prepared to guarantee that property values will not decrease because of this site?”
No. 43: “How will the project managers ensure that my grandchildren are not exposed to the workers while they are waiting for their school bus in the morning?”
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Susan Gill Vardon and Elizabeth Brotherton, Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Cal.), July 31
LAGUNA BEACH—A protest near a day-labor site stopped just short of violence Saturday, marking another turn in a long-running dispute that touches issues of immigration and race.
About 150 people, some shouting messages decrying illegal immigration and others speaking out in favor of immigrants, nearly came to blows. Police stepped in on several occasions to keep protesters apart. One man was arrested for carrying a concealed dagger, said Laguna Beach Police Sgt. Jason Kravetz.
But people supporting the workers said Save Our State and other anti-illegal immigration groups are racially motivated. They also defended the need for the center.
“They are working people, and we support and defend their want to make a living,” said Alvaro Maldonado, who came to the protest Saturday with 15 other members of the International Socialist Organization.
Emotions were pushed higher near the end of the three-hour protest when two men walked through the crowd carrying swastika flags, a move many Save Our State activists said they opposed.
“I totally disagree with it,” said John Gutierrez, an 18-year-old Goldenwest College student. “I told them to put it away.”
On June 21, the council awarded $175,000 to 30 nonprofit groups. The money comes from festival rent, which goes into the city’s community assistance fund, said Mayor Elizabeth Pearson-Schneider.
Topping the list was the South Orange County Cross Cultural Council. The group, which has operated the hiring center since 1999, got $21,000. Next was the Laguna Beach Relief and Resource Center, which assists victims of the Bluebird Canyon landslide. It got $20,000.
Garcia, who lives three blocks from the slide site, complained to the City Council that the $21,000 would be better spent on slide victims.
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