An open-air, taxpayer-funded day-laborer center opened before dawn in Herndon yesterday, and although the frigid weather appeared to chill the job market, it did nothing to cool the passions of those on both sides of the controversial issue.
The opening followed months of intense debate as the center became a focal point in the contentious national argument over illegal immigration. Yesterday, activists showed up carrying signs and voicing opinions, leading to one expletive-laced confrontation.
The first four workers arrived on foot about 5:30 a.m., even though the center did not officially open until a half-hour later. Luis Ventura, 31, of El Salvador, who said he had walked for 30 minutes in the pre-dawn darkness, was the first to sign up for a lottery system that would be used to match workers with employers.
By 9 a.m., eight of the 89 workers—about 9 percent—got jobs. Officials said a combination of the cold, the media presence and uncertainty about the new site led to the low employment rate, but the workers questioned whether the center would work for them.
While the workers, many of them undocumented immigrants, stood in the cold stamping their feet to stay warm, people both for and against the new site began gathering at the entrance to the center, which is in the back of the old police station on the Loudoun County line.
About two dozen activists from two groups that oppose illegal immigration—the Herndon chapter of the Minuteman Project and Help Save Herndon—stood sign-to-sign with members of a recently formed pro-laborer organization, HEART (Herndon Embraces All in Respect and Tolerance).
For the most part, the interaction was spirited but peaceful and nonconfrontational, except for one moment when Bob Rudine, a member of the Minuteman Project and Help Save Herndon, said illegal immigrants “are raping our children.”
“Oh, you are a racist,” shouted Leila McDowell of Herndon, a member of HEART.
“Man, get the [expletive] out of here,” said Marco Del Fuego of Washington, who was carrying a sign that read “Change Your Name, You’re Still the K.K.K.”
“You get out of here,” Rudine said.
“This land we are in is not yours,” Del Fuego said, “and it will never be yours, my friend. How do you think the country was built? By slavery. Did you build it yourself?”