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A new center for day laborers opened this week in Centreville, Va., more than a year after the proposal first sparked tension in the town as some residents tied it to the national debate about immigration policy.
Organizers say the Centreville Labor Resource Center should make Centreville a safer place for everyone. It's difficult to separate the issue of undocumented day laborers from talk of federal immigration policy, but Shani Moser, the director of the brand new center, does her best to keep the focus on the problems she feels the facility can actually help solve.
"Our goal is to create safe situation, to get those negotiations off the street," she says. "They don't belong there."
Moser is talking about negotiations between those looking for work and the potential employers who simply pull over and talk to the laborers through their car windows.
"I have seen almost-collisions, with a car that has pulled over to get a worker, and another car that has turned the corner," Moser says. "That's not a safe situation."
Eddie Segura, a native of Guatemala, is one of a handful of workers who on Monday came to the Labor Resource Center, which is pretty well hidden on the back side of a strip mall. About a dozen of his fellow workers still waited outside the town's public library, and at main intersections, rather than coming to the center.
He says more people will come to the center once they let employers know this is where they'll be.
But the new facility isn't all about connecting workers with jobs; on opening day, five people were learning English from teacher Patty Mihm, and eventually the center will also offer basic healthcare, according to Moser.
Across the street from some of the workers still trying their luck on the sidewalk nearby, Centreville resident Dan Haug says he thinks the center will help the town, but doesn't expect tensions about immigration policy to go away.
"Until the national debate has been solved, I think this'll continue to be a hotspot," Haug says.
Moser, her staff, and volunteers are just hoping they're helping to cool things down, rather than fanning the flames.