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Day workers in Va. worried about new immigration enforcement

The Centreville Labor Resource Center matches employers with day workers. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

CENTREVILLE, Va. — Newly-tightened immigration enforcement policies are having a dramatic effect on local day workers, and centers which strive to match employers with temporary laborers.

“The recent immigration changes are definitely producing a lot of fear in our community,” said Jasmine Blaine, director of the Centreville Labor Resource Center.

“If there are rumors of raids going on, less people are willing to leave their homes, as they’re afraid of being picked up by Immigration, and deported,” said Blaine.

The Trump administration is not changing U.S. immigration laws, but it is altering how they will be enforced.

Any immigrant who is in the country illegally and is charged or convicted of any offense, or even suspected of a crime, will now be an enforcement priority, according to Homeland Security Department memos signed by Secretary John Kelly.

“We’re seeing people become very nervous about what they should do,” said Andres Tobar, executive director of the Shirlington Employment and Education Center.

“I’ve had individuals say they have appointments with Immigration, and ask ‘Am I going to be deported when I go?'”

SEEC, located in South Arlington, matches employers with people looking for work.

Some, but not all workers have applied for citizenship, said Tobar. “They’re going through a process that may literally take years.”

“We do not ask them what their legal status is, but we recognize that most of them are undocumented,” said Tobar. “We ask what kind of skills they have.”

Tobar and Blaine said the centers are an alternative to workers congregating on street corners.

“It’s a place for someone looking for an opportunity to do a day’s work,” said Tobar. “Maybe a few hours of moving, or landscaping, or helping with painting.”

Blaine said the center attempts to inform immigrant workers about changing immigration enforcement policies.

“We’ve been doing a lot of ‘know your rights’ sessions, to let them know what their legal obligations are, and how to protect themselves in case anything does happen,” said Blaine.

The Centreville center is trying to prepare workers for future uncertainty, including the possibility of parents being separated from their children.

“There are certain legal documents that can be filled out to give guardianship of your child to someone else here in the States, if that happens,” said Blaine.

“We can’t assess the magnitude of anxiety on folks,” said Tobar. “They know that a knock on the door could be their last day in the United States.”

With the increased scrutiny of immigrants, Blaine said the center will continue to offer a helping hand: “We’re here to help you in this time of need.”

Life as an immigrant has always included stress, even before President Donald Trump’s promises of tightening immigration, said Tobar.

“Many doors are being shut,” said Tobar, “but there’s always hope, and they took a tremendous risk to get here.”


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