A Fairfax Circuit Court judge threw out Herndon’s anti-solicitation ordinance yesterday, finding that the town’s two-year-old prohibition against laborers and motorists discussing employment on the streets violates First Amendment rights to free speech.
The 11-page opinion by Judge Leslie Alden was a legal setback for town officials, who regarded the ordinance as an important tool in their crackdown on illegal immigrants. Some town leaders say such immigrants account for most of those seeking work.
The ruling came as the town announced it was preparing to take over management of the Herndon Official Workers Center, which opened in December 2005 to provide an alternative site for day workers to meet prospective employers.
The center has been a focal point of Northern Virginia’s increasingly bitter immigration debate. Reston Interfaith, which has operated the center for the town under a grant from Fairfax County, does not require the 120 or so mostly Hispanic workers who use the facility to prove that they are in the country legally. The group’s county funding and agreement with the town expire Sept. 14.
After searching unsuccessfully since late last year for a new operator that would verify workers’ immigration status, the town is poised to take over the center temporarily. Mayor Stephen J. DeBenedittis, who unseated incumbent Michael L. O’Reilly last year with a promise to overhaul the labor site, announced yesterday that at its meeting Tuesday, the Town Council will consider hiring its own staff to run the center. Town employees would seek documentation from workers, he said.
DeBenedittis said that even without the ordinance, the town is committed to preventing a return to the chaotic circumstances that existed before passage of the law and the opening of the center, when workers gathered every morning in a 7-Eleven parking lot on Elden Street.
Yesterday’s decision reversed a March 21 ruling in District Court upholding the Herndon ordinance. It is the latest in a flurry of court actions across the country stemming from local attempts to deal with the consequences of illegal immigration.