Centers for Day Laborers Face Strong Opposition

A group that started out protesting illegal immigration at the U.S.-Mexican border now is trying to shut down day laborers' centers sanctioned by local governments across the country. "The Minutemen" group says the centers help illegal immigrants.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

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And I'm Melissa Block.

A group that started out protesting illegal immigration at the Mexican border has a new target. The Minutemen now have some two dozen local affiliates across the country, and some are trying to shut down day labor sites. NPR's Jennifer Ludden went to a contested site in Virginia and has this report.

JENNIFER LUDDEN reporting:

On a frigid morning during rush hour, George Taplin stands on a grassy strip outside a newly opened day labor center in Herndon. This is part of his morning routine now.

Mr. GEORGE TAPLIN (Minuteman): Because we want the illegal aliens to go away and--excuse me a second.

LUDDEN: Taplin grabs a minicam hanging from his neck and zooms in on a passing white van full of Hispanic-looking men.

Mr. TAPLIN: The idea here is that I get the license number, I pick--you know, I put them down in a database and then I try to track them down from that.

LUDDEN: Taplin checks whether the contractors are registered, paying unemployment insurance and taxes. He says he's turned over the names of 16 alleged violators, giving their information to a host of local, state and federal agencies.

Mr. TAPLIN: Hi, Dianne.

LUDDEN: Fellow Minuteman Dianne Bonieskie wanders over with her own camera.

Mr. TAPLIN: They want some trench diggers. They're waiting, the guys with the cables behind here.

Ms. DIANNE BONIESKIE (Minuteman): Yeah.

Mr. TAPLIN: Yeah.

LUDDEN: Both Taplin and Bonieskie live nearby, and Bonieskie says the growing number of illegal immigrant workers in the area is having a bad influence.

Ms. BONIESKIE: They're forming into boarding houses. At one time I had 11 men, one woman and two children living across the street from me. There's a whole underground society over in Strolling Park.

LUDDEN: Bonieskie and Taplin believe their presence is making contractors wary of entering the day labor site. In fact, there seems to be a large number of commercial vans and trucks in a 7-Eleven parking lot across the street; the drivers watching the Minutemen as they watch back.

Unidentified Man #1: (Spanish spoken)

Unidentified Man #2: (Spanish spoken)

LUDDEN: Inside the day labor site, 77 workers have registered on this morning, but by 8:30 only two have been hired. Director Bill Threalkel(ph) blames the slow holiday season, not the presence of the Minutemen.

Mr. BILL THREALKEL (Day Labor Site Director): There are a lot of supporters out there who are not as vocal as the opposition. So--and we know who they are, and they let us know who they are, and they're a big part of our success.

LUDDEN: But the Minutemen aren't the only opponents to this site. Fairfax County also faces a lawsuit for using public money to help fund the center. The conservative group Judicial Watch says that's aiding and abetting illegal activity since many of the day laborers are undocumented.

Town officials say they had to find some way to solve of problem. Dozens of men used to crowd another 7-Eleven parking lot downtown, charging at potential employers who drove up and posing a safety hazard. When Herndon Town Manager Steve Owen drops by to check on this new center, he's pleased.

Mr. STEVE OWEN (Herndon Town Manager): The site's running beautifully, and that's wonderful. And the old site has been cleaned up, and I consider that a success as well. So, so far, so good.

LUDDEN: For some of the day laborers, though, it's so far, so bad. Dennis Bustio(ph) says he prefers the old site with all its chaos.

Mr. DENNIS BUSTIO (Day Laborer): (Through Translator) Down there I used to get a lot of--a little more work than here because down there it was whoever could rush in and get the job. Here it's by a lottery, so we all have equal chances, and it's a little slower for me.

LUDDEN: So slow that with a wife and child to support back in Honduras, Bustio is thinking of moving on to seek work in another state.

Virginia's Minutemen plan to keep up their watchdog operation, though they may not have to spend more winter mornings in the cold. George Taplin says he's gotten permission to rig a camera on nearby property. He plans to set it up so that he and anyone else who wishes can monitor the goings-on at this day labor site via the Internet. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.

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