Thursday, November 20, 2008

Casa opens new day-laborer center in Crossroads - Gazette

by Jeremy Arias | Staff Writer | Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008

Immigrant advocacy group says facility is largest in country at 6,000 square feet

Casa of Maryland will open what the group is calling the country's largest day-laborer center Wednesday in the Langley Park Shopping Center, drawing praise from officials in nearby Takoma Park and criticism from a group opposed to illegal immigration and the use of public funding for such facilities.

The workers center, located at 7978 New Hampshire Ave. at the Takoma/Langley Crossroads, cost about $720,000 with funding from Prince George's County, the State of Maryland and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. At 6,000 square feet, it will be the largest day-laborer center in the country and will serve up to 160 laborers at a time, Casa of Maryland officials said.

Casa spokesman Mario Quiroz said the new worker center would fit the demand in the area. The commercial centers at the intersection of University Boulevard and New Hampshire are home to the largest concentration of day laborers in the country, according to Quiroz, citing a 2006 study by UCLA Center for the Study of Urban Poverty that ranked the area above Chicago, Phoenix and San Francisco in terms of day-laborer density.

"The goal is to bring all those [area day laborers] here," Quiroz said. "[The center] will provide more training. … Basically they will be really technical so that makes them much better day laborers."

Brad Botwin, director of the anti-illegal immigration organization Help Save Maryland, said his group opposes the Takoma/Langley day labor center as it opposes every day labor center.

"The workers don't pay any taxes, they're taking jobs away from Americans and they're using our tax dollars to pay for facilities like this," Botwin said.

Even as Botwin raised concerns about supporting potentially illegal immigrant labor, Takoma Park Councilman Doug Barry, who's Ward 6 borders New Hampshire across from the new center, applauded the center and Casa's efforts to improve standards for day laborers in the area.

"It's a welcome addition to the area for two reasons," he said. "First, it will be a shelter area for the workers to go and be matched with the employers [eliminating loitering problems of the past]. The second reason it's important is the center will provide the workers with resources including English language classes."

Workers entering the new center will be registered and given Casa identification badges. The facility has about six training bays where workers can receive free, hands-on instruction in trades such as tile-laying, plumbing and electrical work by Prince George's County Community College instructors through a partnership between the college and Casa, Quiroz said.

As employers request them, Casa operators will call laborers by name from a list based on how many workers are needed by each employer. Secondary functions of the center will include English classes and worker rights instruction to ensure day laborers aren't mistreated, Quiroz said.

Some work still remains to be done on the center, computers that will be available for workers to find jobs or other resources have yet to be installed and the hands-on training bays are still unfurnished.

The facility is located in a basement in the Langley Park Shopping Center, a location that originally created some confusion among area business owners and their representatives who had a say in the site plan. Erwin H. Mack, executive director of the Takoma/Langley Crossroads Development Authority, originally opposed the center's location, saying a house would be a better acquisition.

"I thought we were rolling over too easily and simply using a basement [instead of] using a building that could be used adequately," he said, adding that he was happy the center will open soon. "We're going to strongly urge police and let property managers know that there's a place for [workers] to go instead of wandering around the shopping center."

Casa of Maryland will open the new worker center, the largest in the country, at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the center's location in the Langley Park Shopping Center, 7978 New Hampshire Ave.

Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson (D) will join state Sen. David Harrington (D-Dist. 47) of Cheverly along with members of the Prince George's County Council, state housing department officials and workers to celebrate the opening of the new center.

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