As Goes Herndon, So Goes the World

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The Washington Post has an even-handed wrap-up of Tuesday's election in Herndon, VA, where incumbent city council members who approved a day laborer center were swept from office.

In Herndon yesterday, people on both sides of the issue agreed that the larger national events of the last several weeks—dramatic marches, Monday's Day Without Immigrants and the release of a Spanish-language edition of the national anthem—inflamed a segment of the electorate already alienated by the opening of the labor center in the town's former police station on the Herndon-Loudoun County line.

Aubrey Stokes, a member of Help Save Herndon, a group opposed to the center, said the outcome was "in part due to outrage over events that have happened in the last 10 days." Those events included, Stokes said, a Monday rally of immigrants at a supermarket parking lot in Herndon, where Salvadoran flags were displayed.

The Minutemen, who have a successful franchise in Herndon, are claiming victory … but it's unclear how much their victory owed to low turnout. Around 2600 people voted in a city of 26,000—the new mayor was elected by 130 votes. It's easy for a politically-charged group to take a small election like this, as evidenced by last year's rout of the Dover, PA school board, which had wanted to wedge intelligent design into the curriculum.

If you maintain any illusions that Reason writers could win city council elections, check out the last month's reporting on immigration issues.

NEXT: No Cuddling Allowed

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  1. If you maintain any illusions that Reason writers could win city council elections, check out the last month’s reporting on immigration issues.

    Do Reason writers support the use of taxpayer-funded facilities to help the Special People du Jour obtain private employment? If so, I wouldn’t vote for them.

  2. I wonder how the taxpayer money goes into this center – the article is unclear:
    “Reston Interfaith, a nonprofit group, operates the center under a $175,000 contract with Fairfax County that expires in mid-2007.”

    That aside, I’m skeptical of the effectiveness of this “magnificent” center. Plenty of Government agencies already attempt (redundantly) to help those find work, with limited success compared to private functions: Monster.com, the want ads, etc. (I work in gov employment security)

    Looks like the center was just another unnecessary Government “service” that, despite lack of results, once in place, will be fearmongered into permanent existence. After all, how could we ever do without “essential” services)

  3. The point of the taxpayer-funded labor center, as I understand it, was to ease traffic and safety issues caused by day-laborers and employers using a parking lot or a sidewalk as a meeting point. Am I wrong?

    Since the day-laborers at least indirectly pay taxes through their rent and the employers (both contractors and homeowners havinging work done) are also taxpayers, a case could be made that a frugally-run, tax-funded labor center was justified. At the very least, local officials who backed it may have been doing so because it was more cost-effective than policing and doing traffic management and dealing with the other externalities of an improvised parking-lot labor center. Another proposal that would have put the labor center in an industrial part of town was extra silly: if the workers are at the bottom rung economically, don’t have cars (or at least registered and insured ones) and are being paid low wages, how would they get there? Via illegal jitneys? And why would employers want to drive out of the way? My guess is the real meeting point would remain at the parking lot or streetcorner or whatever.

    I’m not sure what the free-market solution to this is. If you try to charge workers to go to a labor center, they’ll just take their services to another parking lot or sidewalk. Charging employers would at best generate hostility and make the hiring process slower and more difficult. And by its nature it would drive the employers — seeking easy-hassle-free day labor — away. Maybe you finance the center by leasing out space along the perimieter to food vendors, haircutters and other small businesses that would also make the place more hospitable and useful to the workers.

    The point of the center is not a job-search resource like a state-run “employment office”. It is an atempt to accomodate the market-driven reality of the improvised day-labor hiring center in a way that allows the practice to continue while addressing things like the safetry, traffic and sanitation issues in an easier-to-manage way.

  4. Home Depot was sponsoring these in some of their parking lots for a while (though I bet not any more). That seems like a nicely-balanced free-market solution with minimal traffic and policing impact.

  5. koppelman,

    I tend to agree with you. Well put.

  6. The possibility (it’s never a certainty) that providing non-essential services at taxpayer expense might possibly result in enough savings in essential services to be a net gain for taxpayers and whether this justifies the non-essential outlay is a perennially interesting question for the serious, open-minded, chin-stroking libertarian philosopher. Aside from the fact that the parenthetical uncertainty of this ever working as planned may take on extra-parenthetical significance, this case demonstrates (yet again) the problem of people having their money taken for purposes of which they don’t approve. Even if many of us would agree that opposition to this day laborer center is based on xenophobia that we don’t share, hey, it’s their right to be xenophobic as long as they don’t act on it by violating others’ rights, and no one has a right to a day laborer center. If these Minutemen types leave the laborers alone if their meeting place is on private property (I don’t know if that’s the case or not), then it would be clear that their opposition is based on being forced to support this facility. And whether I or you agree with their reasons for their opposition, I can sympathize with their outrage at being forced to pay. Now, IF eliminating the center results in an increase in taxes for police presence and such, then maybe maybe you could say they’re doing the same thing to others and it all gets quite circular. BUT, I would say this latter notion is a lot more speculative. That’s why it’s nice if you just limit government expenditures to essential services as a general principle, then you don’t get dragged into a quagmire of what ifs.

  7. I’m not sure what the free-market solution to this is.
    That’s easy. The day-labor companies provide the private space where the potential workers wait for jobs – just like they do nearly everywhere else.

    Besides, aren’t immigrants supposed to be ‘sponsored’ and/or have a job lined up before they get here? That’s what the educated immigrants from Canada and China have to deal with, but apparently they don’t have the right skin color to qualify as Special People.

    “Reston Interfaith, a nonprofit group, operates the center under a $175,000 contract with Fairfax County that expires in mid-2007.”
    That’s an expensive heart – worthy of a tax-funded sleeve made of the finest silks.

  8. BUT, I would say this latter notion is a lot more speculative.

    fyodor,

    Since when is the police busting people for loitering speculative? The real speculation comes in defining what an essential service is.

    If cleaning litter and traffic management are essential services, isn’t that really all the “employment center” provided? They could have let the workers congregate in a park fieldhouse, too, but maybe there wasn’t enough room.

  9. Le Mur,

    175K is roughly 3 police salaries. Are are you in favor of expanding government payrolls? Because

    The issue isn’t helping immigrants find employment, but naturally you fell for that red herring. The issue is how do you accomodate people congregating from getting out of hand without overdoing it?

  10. Since when is the police busting people for loitering speculative?

    Uh, wha? What I’m saying is that whether spending taxpayer money on a laborer center saves enough money in police pay to be a net savings to taxpayers is speculative. I’m not sure, but I think you’re saying that it’s not speculative that the police will and do bust some people for loitering. Well, that hardly proves that building the center will effect a net savings to the taxpayer.

    “If cleaning litter and traffic management are essential services”

    Gray areas. They are not essential services to the pure libertarian. To me? Eh….dunno. But your logical leap from that to including the employment center within it demonstrates the inherent problem with stretching the definition of “essential services.” The stretching never seems to end once you walk through that door (I love mixing metaphors!).

    Le Mur,

    The problem, as I understand it, has been that the laborers were allowed to hang out on in ye olde public spaces, sidewalks and such, thus there’s no incentive for private parties to take up the slack (heh). Eliminating these tragic commons would dry up the issue, but of course that’s not on the table. Thus, there is no free market solution under current political circumstances. Those political circumstances suck, but they ain’t going away anytime soon.

  11. fyodor,

    What I’m saying is that whether spending taxpayer money on a laborer center saves enough money in police pay to be a net savings to taxpayers is speculative…I think you’re saying that it’s not speculative that the police will and do bust some people for loitering. Well, that hardly proves that building the center will effect a net savings to the taxpayer.

    What do you think is easier to accomplish in government: ending funding to a charity-based employment center when its no longer needed or cutting 3 FTE’s off the payroll after the problem goes away with increased policing?

  12. What do you think is easier to accomplish in government: ending funding to a charity-based employment center when its no longer needed or cutting 3 FTE’s off the payroll after the problem goes away with increased policing?

    This is a trick question: both are impossible to accomplish.

  13. Besides, aren’t immigrants supposed to be ‘sponsored’ and/or have a job lined up before they get here? That’s what the educated immigrants from Canada and China have to deal with, but apparently they don’t have the right skin color to qualify as Special People.

    1. I assume by ‘educated’ you mean, say, college-educated? Not everyone agrees that there should be a minimum education requirement for immigrants. ‘Uneducated’ people want a shot at a better life, too.

    2. There should be a version of Godwin’s Law that invalidates any argument containing an irrelevant reference to “skin color”.

  14. The latest Zogby poll should be a bit troubling for those who support open borders. Bear in mind, those numbers are only going to increase. Those who took the poll have heard all the open borders arguments and they’ve seen the effects of those flawed policies.

    And, obvious to most, day labor is massively subsidized labor. The homeowners and contractors who employ them get a great deal. Then, they have to pay for that great deal when those workers go to the emergency room, put their kids in schools, and on and on.

    The “libertarians” are quite supportive of that massively subsidized labor.

    The libertarians here also claim that defending the U.S. would be one of those services that a libertarian government would provide.

    Yet, they support millions of foreign citizens coming here. And, those foreign citizens are now marching in our cities, making a show of force and demanding that we capitulate and give them citizenship.

    I’d suggest turning to Reason for the humor and the snark, not for public policy advice.

  15. The latest Zogby poll should be a bit troubling for those who support open borders.

    I find most polls troubling. So it goes.

  16. Last time I’ll post on these stupid arguments that change the subject:

    And, obvious to most, day labor is massively subsidized labor. The homeowners and contractors who employ them get a great deal. Then, they have to pay for that great deal when those workers go to the emergency room, put their kids in schools, and on and on.

    Day labor (temp jobs) in this country dates back long before public schools. How do you think ports operated in the 1800’s?

    The libertarians here also claim that defending the U.S. would be one of those services that a libertarian government would provide.

    Defending from invading armies, absolutely. Immigrants looking for work ain’t the same thing.

  17. Fyodor is correct, the day-laborers (50+ on a Saturday morning) were hanging out on a public sidewalk next to a 7-11. It was on the main road of Herndon and caused both traffic and pedestrian problems. While I’m sure all of these men were hard working, law abiding non-citizens, I certainly avoided walking in that area and there is no way I would let my 16 year old daughter anywhere close. Yes, probably the worst she would face would be lewd comments, but this was a public space that we had to avoid.

    Sadly, the free market was not solving the commons problem, the center is an improvement. I would guess that these gentlemen provided a lot of business for the 7-11, but the 7-11 didn’t do anything on their property to stop the relocation.

  18. So 69% of Americans want to kick out illegals. That means it must be the right thing to do!

  19. I think the discussion of whether a day laborer center is (i) a good thing or not, and/or (ii) one that should be subsidized by government overlooks the main issue here:

    Should the government be knowingly subsidizing and facilitating an illegal activity?

    The answer to that is pretty clearly no, even if the illegal activity in question is the employment of illegal aliens.

    The issue of whether these upstanding if undocumented members of the community should be illegal or not is a completely separate issue.

  20. RC,

    What is the illegal activity?

  21. RC,

    You don’t go far enough. That many of the laborers are likely illegal is a whole separate issue to begin with. It’s stretching the meaning of “subsidizing” beyond recognition to apply it to building a structure whose purpose is to get folks off the street corner. It’s not like the city is paying coyotes, for chrissake! And I know you’re not saying it is, but that’s what “subsidizing” illegal immigration would mean! Doing ANYTHING that happens to benefit a criminal is NOT subsidizing criminal behavior!

    One often wonders, if it’s so obvious that most to all of these workers are illegal, where’s the INS? Whatever the answer, it’s their business that many of these folks may be illegals, not the city’s in deciding how to deal with their vagrancy.

  22. Russ 2000,

    It’s probably not worth responding to the Lonewacko (even though I did myself, though with little seriousness or effort). I think he takes the title of this blog quite to heart nowadays.

  23. 1. I assume by ‘educated’ you mean, say, college-educated?
    Educated to the extent that they provide knowledge that others are willing to pay for, and are therefore self-supporting, etc.

    Not everyone agrees that there should be a minimum education requirement for immigrants. ‘Uneducated’ people want a shot at a better life, too.
    I never said otherwise. But there’s no good reason to encourage and subsidize one set of immigrants while discouraging and (what’s the opposite of ‘subsidize’?)-ing others – except Political Correctness.

    2. There should be a version of Godwin’s Law that invalidates any argument containing an irrelevant reference to “skin color”.
    Too bad that doesn’t apply here.

    It’s stretching the meaning of “subsidizing” beyond recognition to apply it to building a structure whose purpose is to get folks off the street corner.
    Take a drive down E. Colfax and count the “day labor” outfits that provide private, non-subsidized places for workers (writing that word makes me feel like a commie) to hang out and wait for work. There’s about a dozen of them. I really don’t care if the “workers” are immigrants, legal or otherwise, or if they’re citizens, subsidizing day-labor isn’t a valid government function any more than is subsidizing oil exploration.

  24. What is the illegal activity?

    I don’t think its a matter legal or illegal activity. I watched a jewelry store owner try to chase away day laborers from her shop’s parking lot a couple of weeks ago. I presume she just wanted to make it easy for her customers to get to her store. The day laborers politely moved to sidewalk for about 30 seconds, until she went back in her store, and then they returned to her parking lot. The store owner has to pay rent or own a place to conduct her business. She pays the city an annual business license fee along with many other fees and has to file an assortment of regulatory forms to keep her business compliant.

    Does anyone think this is a bit unfair? And as for a fair-market solution to this problem, wouldn’t it best for day laborers to gather in a privately owned venue ?

  25. Russ2000 said:
    /Defending from invading armies, absolutely. Immigrants looking for work ain’t the same thing/

    You may change your mind about that before this is all over. Some of these illegals are downright belligerent.

  26. Does anyone think this is a bit unfair? And as for a fair-market solution to this problem, wouldn’t it best for day laborers to gather in a privately owned venue ?

    The store owner could call the police. At best this just moves the problem to another store owner.

    A privately owned venue would be best, but not likely to take place for reasons koppelman stated above.

    So what’s wrong with this second-best solution? It’s not perfect, but it’s not a housing project either.

  27. The store owner could call the police.

    I didn’t interview her, maybe she’s tried that, maybe not. Anyway, all the police would say is “stay on the sidewalk”.

    As for Koppelman’s argument:

    I’m not sure what the free-market solution to this is. If you try to charge workers to go to a labor center, they’ll just take their services to another parking lot or sidewalk.

    The labor center would have to find a good business plan. My guess is that plan would have the labor center charge the employer a fee for providing a venue for the workers to market their services, there would be no fee placed on the workers themselves.

  28. You may change your mind about that before this is all over. Some of these illegals are downright belligerent.

    They seemed to solve the problem of the belligerence of the day laborers with this relatively inexpensive employment center.

    Now, what to do about the belligerence of the xenophobes and puritans?

  29. JK,

    Did you not see his next sentence? “Charging employers would at best generate hostility and make the hiring process slower and more difficult.”

  30. I really don’t care if the “workers” are immigrants, legal or otherwise, or if they’re citizens, subsidizing day-labor isn’t a valid government function any more than is subsidizing oil exploration.

    I agree. I was addressing RC’s claim that building the center was subsidizing criminality and saying that the immigration status of the workers was irrelevant. From the introductory portion of the sentence of yours I quoted, you seem to agree. As for the rest of your response to me, if you’re right that Denver has private businesses that perform the same function as Herndon’s employment center (I’ll keep my eyes open next time I’m on East Colfax, which might be later today, though I don’t know if I’ll know what to look for), then I wonder why these types of businesses didn’t likewise sprout up in Herndon? Maybe they would have had the town just waited? Maybe Herndon has regulations that prevents them? Maybe Denver cops crack down harder on vagrancy? Anyway, if you’re right, that’s a good point, and it makes me wonder!

  31. Russ,

    It’s kinda slow and difficult to drive into a parking lot of day labors and find out which ones are up to the task you have in mind. A managed day labor center would make this much more appealling to customer (employers) who might not speak the language of the laborers. I want a painter, I want a mover, I want a gardener? A managed labor center could provide a value-added service I’d be willing to pay for.

  32. JK,

    Well, it always comes down to supply and demand. The more demand for laborers, the more likely a for-profit labor center would supply them. But if the demand isn’t enough to cover the everyday costs, it won’t happen.

  33. What’s so slow and difficult about driving into a parking lot and saying “I need 3 guys to shovel 30 tons of cow shit onto dumptucks! Fifty bucks for the day! We’ll drive you there and back.”

    Moe, Larry, and Curly can shovel cow shit just fine, but you probably don’t want them painting or moving furniture.

  34. What’s so slow and difficult about driving into a parking lot and saying “I need 3 guys to shovel 30 tons of cow shit onto dumptucks! Fifty bucks for the day! We’ll drive you there and back.”

    First, you’d probably have to say that in Spanish. Second, you’re gonna have to get some basic math skills. 30 tons ?

  35. Yayy! What great news. A lot of my students are from Northern Virginia, and they were across the board furious that Herndon would build, with taxpayer money, a center for lawbreakers to congregate to gut wages for natives. Only those wedded to libteratarian dogma would think otherwise (quick, name a nation that lets poor folks from a poor nation flood their nation and still did ok….well, in the world of ‘economic axiomatic deductions from self-maximizing self interested actors’ they do, but thats not the real world (thank goodness)

  36. “Home Depot was sponsoring these in some of their parking lots for a while (though I bet not any more). That seems like a nicely-balanced free-market solution with minimal traffic and policing impact.”

    It might be a nice free-market solution, except that, “Kathryn Gallagher, regional spokeswoman for Home Depot, said that in some California cities, including Burbank, it has been required to build shelters for [day] workers near the stores.” http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com/cgi-bin/texis.cgi/web/vortex/display?slug=homedepot01m&date=20060401&query=home+depot

  37. Hey Ken, didn’t America do that…err, hasn’t America been doing that pretty much since it’s inception? (Allowing poor people flooding our nation.) Seems to me that being the world’s #1 economy could be considered doing “ok”.

  38. Proposition 187 passed, too. With a bit of luck, every Republican in Virginia will now go into an anti-immigrant rage, just in time for the Congressional elections.

  39. Right joe. This is the mechanism by which the GOP plans to demolish itself on a national level, just 10 years after they suicided in California. I had hoped for a constitutional ammendment to make Arnold president for life, since that would be pure slapstick fun. But alienating people who poll Dem and vote GOP will probably be more effective.

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