The Day Laborer Debate: Small Town, U.S.A. Takes on Federal Immigration Law Regarding Undocumented Workers


Herndon, Virginia is the latest example of small town immigration issues exploding into the national debate on illegal immigration. This four-square mile town, population 22,000, was propelled into the national spotlight after a dramatic public reaction to Mayor Michael O’Reilly’s proposal to construct a hiring site for day laborers. Three months before the center even opened its doors, Herndon and Fairfax County faced a law suit challenging the legality of funding a day labor center that would inevitably extend its services to undocumented immigrants.

Small towns, adjusting to significant increases in the immigrant worker population, have become a new battlefield for the immigration debate in the United States, attracting the attention of national interest groups, politicians, and the media. With limited authority over this decidedly federal arena, local politicians and residents are devising ways to realistically address immigration issues in their communities.

This Comment evaluates the validity of the charges brought against Fairfax County and Herndon for approving and funding the Herndon Official Workers Center (“H.O.W. Center” or “the Center.” Part II of this Comment discusses the origin of the law suit and the day labor phenomenon. Part II also enumerates the charges filed against Fairfax County and Herndon and examines the federal and state laws that these charges implicate. Part III of this Comment argues that Herndon and Fairfax County do not violate federal immigration law regarding the employment of undocumented workers because the H.O.W. Center does not create an employer-employee relationship with its patrons. Part III further asserts that the Center’s activities do not amount to a violation of the federal prohibition against harboring undocumented immigrants or aiding or abetting unlawful employment activity. Finally, Part III of this Comment disputes the charge that the Center’s public services violate federal and state law prohibiting the provision of benefits to undocumented individuals. This Comment concludes that Fairfax County and Herndon are in full compliance with the law and should be lauded, not sued, for their efforts to promote public safety and restore community harmony through their support of the Herndon Official Workers Center.


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Human Rights Law | Immigration Law | Labor and Employment Law | State and Local Government Law

Date of this Version

April 2006