By Susan Dickson
As one group of residents fights Carrboroâ€™s anti-lingering ordinance, another is looking toward a solution that could resolve the issues surrounding the law â€“ a day-laborer center.
Though discussions are in the very early stages, local Latino leaders, law enforcement, elected officials, day laborers and other stakeholders are talking about just how this community might find a solution that could improve the situation for everyone.
In December, Orange County Justice United asked the mayors of Carrboro and Chapel Hill and others to convene a task force to examine and address the issues surrounding day laborers, and last month 30 to 40 residents and leaders came together to talk about those issues.
â€œI think itâ€™s really important that we have a sanctioned place for workers so that they can be distinguished from folks who are not necessarily looking for work,â€ Carrboro Board of Aldermen member Randee Haven-Oâ€™Donnell said.
Day laborers, many of them Latino, often gather at the intersection of Davie and Jones Ferry roads in hopes that contractors will come by and offer them work. In November 2007, the board of aldermen approved an anti-lingering ordinance for the intersection after residents of the surrounding neighborhood complained of public alcohol consumption, public urination and littering in the areas around the intersection. The ordinance prohibits lingering at the intersection between 11 a.m. and 5 a.m.
The board recently heard claims that the ordinance is unconstitutional and voted to take another look at it when it reconvenes in September.
Mauricio Castro, a member of Justice Unitedâ€™s immigrant-family action team and a leader in the Latino community, said he felt it was more important to focus on a solution for day laborers than on the ordinance.
â€œWe donâ€™t see the ordinance at this point as a priority for the work that weâ€™re doing because we believe that the ordinance will fix itself if we have a suitable place where the workers can gather and find work,â€ he said.
Haven-Oâ€™Donnell said she felt it was important to separate the issues of a possible center and the ordinance.
â€œIf the focus is on the ordinance, then itâ€™s fueling the negative energy of the neighbors and the community and capturing the workers when [the two issues] need not be connected,â€ she said. â€œThere is a way to do this. There is a way to decouple it and thatâ€™s by getting the workers a dignified not only work station but eventually a work center,â€ which could provide services in addition to a gathering space.
Castro said he and others on the team are doing research on day-laborer centers and the experiences of other communities to determine how best to approach such a center. Castro said the center could be an organized setting that could provide protection for both workers and those who hire them. At the June stakeholder meeting, representatives from the National Day Laborer Organizing Network presented best-practices strategies and other information to those in attendance.
â€œWe want people to really understand this,â€ Castro said. â€œItâ€™s very easy these days, with the anti-immigrant rhetoric that we have, that people can take this out of context.â€
Haven-Oâ€™Donnell said that one of the most important points that she took from the discussions was the need for the workers to be on board with whatever direction a possible solution takes.
â€œYou can set up certain things, but if theyâ€™re wary of being involved and theyâ€™re not involved, they canâ€™t help move it forward,â€ she said. â€œMy key interest is making sure that their status is elevated as workers.â€
El Centro Hispano, which hosted the June meeting, has been suggested as a possible location for a day-laborer center, but Castro said he wants to think outside of the box and explore all options in the community before making a decision.
â€œWe want to do it right,â€ Castro said. â€œPart of my job and responsibility is to make sure that, at the end, there is a resolution one way or the other.
â€œAt some point, we are going to have to make the call about whether we have a center or whether we have a corner thatâ€™s better organized,â€ he said.
For now, the team will continue to conduct research and educate the public, Castro said, adding that he hopes to have a more specific plan â€“ that wonâ€™t involve fighting the ordinance â€“ within the next six months.
By Susan Dickson