Like many parts of the country, Fairfax County, Va., just west of Washington, D.C., has seen a recent increase in documented and undocumented immigration from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico. Like elsewhere, one visible sign of this increase has been groups of young Latino men waiting in certain open-air areas (such as the parking lots of Home Depot stores) to be offered jobs by contractors or homeowners looking for someone to do construction, painting or gardening work.

Some neighbors complain about these men congregating in their communities. The fear is more about what “such people” might do rather than anything that has actually happened. But standing out in a parking lot in blazing sun or freezing cold without access even to a public toilet is obviously not good for the workers’ interests either. This has led to two responses, one sensible, the other vicious.

The town of Herndon, Va., population 22,000, proposed to deal with the problem by creating a day labor center on city property, where workers could wait to be contacted by potential employers, while also having a chance to use the bathroom and receive social services.

The proposal, coordinated with local community organizations and churches grouped in a coalition called Hope and Harmony, entails investment of some public funds. Fairfax County is proposing to spend about $400,000 for more such centers. There is already a similar center in Washington’s Virginia suburbs, and two in Maryland.

However, nothing has been accomplished toward these goals, because the proposed Herndon day labor center has been met with a hurricane of anti-immigrant opposition. The “Federation for Immigration Reform” has declared that if the center is built, the group will take the town to court, charging it with violating U.S. and state law. Radio shock-jocks have been frying the airwaves with scare stories about immigrants bringing crime, disease and terrorism to Herndon if the day labor center is built.

Hearings held by the Herndon Planning Commission were besieged by anti-immigrant bigots and people they have succeeded in terrifying, and, though saner voices were also heard at the hearing, the body voted 4-3 last week to disapprove the plan for the day labor center. However, the Herndon town council can override this vote, and church and community groups are campaigning for this.

As if the situation were not bad enough, Jerry Kilgore, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia (to replace outgoing moderate Democrat Mark Warner) in this November’s election has jumped into the fight, with purple rhetoric about the menace of “illegals.” On Aug. 8, Kilgore, a former Virginia attorney general, denounced all town plans for workers’ centers as a form of rewarding and encouraging criminals, and demanded that Fairfax County also cancel its plans for these centers.

The Democratic candidate, Lt. Gov. Mark Kaine, condemned Kilgore’s statements, pointing out that his Republican opponent is jumping to the conclusion that all users of such centers would be undocumented workers, whereas many kinds of workers might find them convenient and helpful. Independent candidate H. Russell Potts denounced Kilgore as a bigot.

Other Republican politicians are demanding that anybody who is allowed to use such a center be vetted for immigration status. Some far-right GOP politicians in Virginia are relishing the idea of making this and other elections in the near future a referendum on immigration. If they do, immigrant workers will face more daunting problems than lack of access to bathrooms while they look for work.

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