Red light cameras can help with Houston's day laborer problem

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The Minutemen sure have stirred things up in Houston.

Oh, and it’s not just about diversity, harmony and peace. We forgot about compassion:

A regular police community meeting near Shepherd and Washington last week drew more than 70 residents and business owners, including many who expressed frustration with day laborers.

The problem “is way worse than it was three or four years ago,” said Michael Tones, the vice president of New Plan Excel Realty Trust, which owns a shopping center in the area. Tones said customers are frightened by the men loitering along Shepherd near 11th Street.

Juan Alvarez, an activist working to organize the day laborers in that area, asked homeowners to be compassionate.

“I know it is a problem for most of you, but on the other side they are human beings, too,” Alvarez said.

So, what’s the solution? Why, build more “day labor sites,” at city expense of course:

At a separate meeting, Joe Rubio, a representative of Catholic Charities who also heads the Mayor’s Office on Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, introduced a proposal to place a day labor center in each quadrant of the city. The centers would be located away from residential neighborhoods, and would offer language classes and other education.

Rubio estimates that each center would cost a “minimum” of $150,000 a year. Councilman Gordon Quan said he doubted the council would provide $600,000 to fund the four sites, but Rubio and others said private funding could help offset the costs.

In the East End, a day labor center has reopened using $90,000 from the city, $50,000 from Bank of America and volunteer work from representatives of Exxon Mobil Corp.

That’s awfully defeatist of Councilman Quan. Mayor White can be pretty persuasive, and if the mayor decides he wants $600,000 to build centers where “immigrants” can take educational classes, get help with identification papers and find employment, he’ll figure out a way to make it happen.

Besides, those red light cameras will have plenty of revenue flowing into city coffers real soon.

UPDATE: Chris Baker is discussing this topic today. He interviewed Joe Rubio (mentioned in the Chron’s story) who passed along an interesting tidbit: day laborers have complained about being picked up for jobs and then not paid by homeowners and contracters. So HPD has it set up where laborers can lodge a complaint with HPD about people who don’t pay them.

Interesting, huh? Chief Hurtt insists that HPD does not have the resources to ask people if they are here legally, but HPD does have the resources to go after the homeowners and contractors who rip them off.

Of course as Chris points out, it’s terrible that anyone would not uphold his promise to pay, but if the people who are here illegally weren’t encouraged to be here, maybe they wouldn’t be victimized in the first place.

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Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.