Posted on December 9, 2005

In Herndon, Only Feet Away but Worlds Apart

N.C. Aizenman and Timothy Dwyer, Washington Post, Dec. 9, 2005

The slate-gray light of a wintry morning hung over the 7-Eleven parking lot just after sunrise yesterday when a murmur rippled through the crowd of men gathered there: “Look, they are coming.”

Heads turned in unison to a dozen people moving toward them on Elden Street in Herndon. Although the men’s clothing — work boots and bluejeans — revealed them as day laborers, the new group wore warm winter coats and snug-fitting gloves and carried cameras with long lenses, a camcorder, a couple of walkie-talkies and a clipboard list of license plate numbers collected on previous visits.

“The day is ruined. They’re going to scare off the employers,” Alex Aleman, a 32-year-old Honduran in a black ski cap, told his friends in Spanish. “When they come, we don’t eat.”

It was the start of an almost-weekly ritual in this Northern Virginia town that began in mid-October when locals who object to the informal day-laborer site formed a Herndon branch of the Minuteman Project, a national group that actively opposes illegal immigration.

The Minutemen train their lenses on contractors who drive to the lot at Elden Street and Alabama Drive to hire the day laborers, many of whom are in the country illegally. They say they plan to hand the photographs to the Internal Revenue Service for investigation.

The two groups never speak. Separated by only a few feet, they are worlds apart.

License Plate Numbers

A white van with green lettering on the side moved slowly down Alabama Drive. The letters described services — painting, construction, remodeling — but there was no company name. It was the third time it had circled the block in about 25 minutes.

“Doug,” called out George Taplin, the leader of the Minutemen, “there’s that van again. Did you get a picture?”


Behind Abrego, a community organizer began handing the day laborers maps to a new county-funded hiring site that was approved by the Town Council after a bitter, months-long debate. It’s set to open next week. But most of the laborers were enthralled by the sight of the Minutemen.

Aleman wondered whether someone was paying the Minutemen. How else could they find the time to be snapping photos on a workday? Well, he added, unless they were rich and had no need to work.

“Just imagine,” he said with a frown. “They have all that money, and I’m standing here with only one dollar in my pocket.”