Day labor battle brewing

Minutemen, Casa of Maryland set stage for showdown in Takoma Park

Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2006

For more, Minuteman claims assault by laser pointer .

An organization trying to stop illegal immigration started work in the downcounty last week, photographing contractors who pick up day laborers in Wheaton and making plans to expand to Silver Spring and Takoma Park.

And while Stephen Schreiman, president of the Maryland chapter of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, said his group would work covertly for the time being, Casa of Maryland, a workers’ rights group that runs day laborer centers in Silver Spring, Wheaton and Takoma Park, said it would take the opposite approach, threatening to picket the Minutemen’s homes, workplaces and even their children’s schools.

Schreiman, a Gaithersburg resident, said the Minutemen’s Maryland chapter formed about six weeks ago and has about 100 members who already were involved with the group’s Scottsdale, Ariz.,-based headquarters. He said surveillance of the Wheaton day laborer center, which is funded in part by Montgomery County, started last week when Minutemen photographed contractors who drove into the center’s parking lot on University Boulevard West to pick up day workers, men who are primarily Latino.

‘‘From a national standpoint, we want to close the border down and stop the flow of illegals,” Schreiman said. ‘‘We want to do the same thing here, but our approach will be a little different. What we want to do is to basically discourage contractors and businesses from hiring illegals. It’s against federal law.

‘‘We’re going to go after these [contractors] at the state and local level because these people aren’t paying taxes,” including payroll taxes and worker’s compensation, because the day laborers are presumed to be in the United States illegally, Schreiman said. ‘‘We’re going to take these people and through a vetting process determine which ones are not paying their taxes and doing business in an inappropriate manner and then turn them over to the appropriate authorities for prosecution. That should put a damper on the hiring of illegals.”

Although another Minutemen chapter in Herndon, Va., publicly targeted a city-funded day laborer center there in December, Schreiman said his chapter would take a more low-key approach, discreetly photographing contractors and their vehicles at the workers’ centers. In the future, he said the group would be more visible, inviting journalists to accompany the Maryland Minutemen as they work in Montgomery County.

And, he said, efforts to document contractors who hire day laborers will expand to other places where the men congregate, including parking lots at convenience stores and gas stations.

‘‘We’re going to target those, too,” he said. ‘‘When we go down to target Casa in Silver Spring, we will also be filming the Exxon and the 7-Eleven there [at University Boulevard East and Piney Branch Road]. And eventually we will end up going down to the [Takoma⁄Langley] Crossroads, which is even a richer target.”

So far, no one has complained about the Minutemen in Wheaton, said Natalie Cantor, director of the Mid-County Regional Services Center. Staff members from the center have seen the Minutemen working from across Veirs Mill Road.

‘‘They don’t come on the property or come close to the workers’ center, so I have heard no complaints. Things have been quiet.”

While the Minutemen are taking a stealthy approach, Casa’s response will be quite the opposite.

‘‘We are going to target them in a specific way,” said Executive Director Gustavo Torres. Casa representatives will go out with cameras and video cameras to record the Minutemen, but that will only be the first step, he said.

‘‘Then we are going to picket their houses, and the schools of their kids, and go to their work,” Torres said. ‘‘If they are going to do this to us, we are going to respond in the same way, to let people know their neighbors are extremists, that they are anti-immigrant. They are going to hear from us.”

Torres also takes issue with the notion that all of the men who wait for work at official and unofficial pick-up sites are in the United States illegally. ‘‘I have a big surprise for the Minutemen: We know for a fact that many of our workers already have documents.”

Schreiman said he is not against immigration, as his grandparents emigrated from Russia, adding that they came legally to the United States. He said he would be as adamantly opposed to Canadians or people of any other nationality entering America illegally.

The Minutemen’s presence in the Crossroads will only further complicate issues there related to day laborers, said Erwin Mack, executive director of the area’s business association, the Takoma⁄Langley Crossroads Development Authority.

‘‘In this area, the commercial sector hasn’t been harmed in the sense of people being deprived from work because of the day laborers being here,” he said. ‘‘Consequently, while there are issues with their right to be in the United States, that’s not what we’re concerned about. We’re concerned that they wait in an area that doesn’t hurt our commercial properties.”

‘‘... The community at-large is not opposed to the official sites for day laborers,” Mack said. ‘‘They’re opposed to the congregating of day laborers at the unofficial sites.”

Schreiman said his group plans to turn its findings over to local and state law enforcement, though he said he was not aware of Takoma Park’s status as a Sanctuary City. Takoma Park law prohibits any employee, including its police officers, from assisting or cooperating with federal investigations or arrests related to immigration issues.

‘‘That’s blatantly a criminal act as far as I’m concerned,” Schreiman said. ‘‘That means they’re aiding and abetting the transport and hiring of illegals, if they refuse to cooperate.”