UCC-based forum at center of day-laborer dispute in Northern Virginia

UCC-based forum at center of day-laborer dispute in Northern Virginia

June 15, 2010
Written by Gregg Brekke

A Northern Virginia developer is proceeding with a plan to create a day-laborer site behind his Centreville shopping center despite the objections of hundreds of area residents and shopkeepers.

Albert J. Dwoskin, owner of the McLean, Va.-based A.J. Dwoskin and Associates, and Michael Frey, of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said they would continue research on the plan in the wake of a June 1 meeting of the Centreville Immigration Forum (CIF) that drew 300 people, at least four television news stations and dozens of activists on both sides of the immigration debate.

Dwoskin has proposed the use of a double-wide mobile home behind a local shopping center to serve as a center for day laborers who are undocumented U.S. citizens. Currently, the workers congregate outside the Centreville library – but on July 1 a law will go into effect preventing them from gathering on public property to look for work

"This is sort of a fast track that we weren't prepared for four months ago," says the Rev. Jerry Foltz, pastor emeritus of Wellspring UCC, whose wife, Alice, serves as CIF convener. "[Dwoskin] wants a spot with parking and good traffic flow. He doesn't want it to be public, but he wants it accessible. When he is ready to move, I think it will happen quickly. But he's still counting on (the Forum) to come up with a final plan."

Meanwhile, many day laborers say it would be worth the few extra blocks to walk to an organized center; much better than standing by the side of the road near their homes, as they do now. "It would be much better, especially when it rains," says Edwin Cabrera, a 27-year-old who earns $50 to $60 a day as a painter's helper and acknowledges that his papers are in Guatemala.

Resident Kevin Vorce, who lives near the center's proposed site, says moving undocumented workers to a mobile home behind a shopping center just hides the problem. "It takes away from people who need work who are legally in the country," says Vorce, who works in real estate.

The CIF took root at Wellspring three years ago, says Foltz. "We were a small congregation that wanted to make a difference in the community. We felt that the community was not unified, that there were 80,000 of us. We didn't have a town government, we were just a part of the county."

Noting that the area's two largest minorities were Asians and Hispanics, Foltz said all churches were invited to participate in the forum. "We publicized it and a lot of different feelings were expressed. More and more people wanted to see what they could do to help," says Foltz, citing the involvement of the Rev. Dr. Al Fuertes, a UCC pastor with a solid background in conflict transformation.

Foltz said Centreville is ever-vigilant to avoid a repeat of the "catastrophe relating to the anti-immigrant movement" in nearby Prince William County. His reference was to the implementation in late 2008 of Program 287(g), in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement trains local law-enforcement agencies and allows them to identify (via racial profiling), process and detain possible undocumented immigrants.

"The Hispanic community felt terrorized, and many of them left at that time," says Foltz. "Many schools were abandoned and stores closed."

Foltz says the turnout – and resultant tension – at this month's meeting was at least in part due to a local politician's fear-based email distributed to 9,000 people. On the other hand, Foltz praises Frey, a Republican, for supporting the proposed plan. "I can't fight the whole immigration battle, that's beyond me," says Frey. "But we have a situation here that could be made a little bit better."

Foltz says he is prayerful that progress will be made in selecting a site when the CIF holds its monthly meeting on June 22. Included on the agenda is a presentation by a representative of the National Immigrant Justice Center.

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