Herndon Does A 180-Degree Turn

Editorial: Herndon does a 180-degree turn

The Washington DC Examiner Newspaper, The Examiner
Oct 13, 2006 5:00 AM (2 days ago)
Current rank: # 213 of 6,145 articles

WASHINGTON – Since making national news last year for the controversy surrounding its taxpayer-subsidized day laborer center, the tiny town of Herndon has done an abrupt about-face. In May, angry voters ousted Mayor Michael OReilly, who supported the center, and elected Steve DeBenedittis, who did not. Only two incumbents on the Herndon Town Council survived their wrath; five candidates publicly committed to reversing the towns illegal immigrant policy were swept in with DeBenedittis.

The day labor center was founded by Muslim activist Mukit Hossain, whose office is located right next door to the International Institute of Islamic Thought, a think tank that was raided by federal agents after Sept. 11 and is now the subject of a grand jury investigation in Alexandrias federal court. Hossain also has close ties to the Safa Group, a Herndon-based conglomerate of more than 100 interrelated businesses, think tanks and charities suspected of funneling money to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas and al-Qaida.

Just five months after their election, Herndons new leaders kept their promise. On Sept. 26, the Town Council voted 6 to 1 to send police officers to a five-week 287(g) training program with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that will allow them to process and detain illegal immigrants identified during criminal investigations. The training program was created by Congress in 1996, but Herndon is one of the first in the nation to take advantage of it. Officials in Manassas and Loudoun County are now considering doing likewise.

Opponents claim it will allow local police officers to round up people merely suspected of being here illegally, but what the training really does is enable them to keep felons and gang members who are in this country illegally and also pose a significant threat to public safety off Herndons streets until they can be deported. No more catch and release.

On Thursday, the Herndon Town Council went even further, approving a measure that requires applicants for business licenses to swear under penalty of perjury that they are U.S. citizens. The town manager will also have to start obeying a Virginia state law that forbids the hiring of illegal workers for large construction projects by extending the illegal hiring ban to subcontractors working on town contracts.

Last year, Herndon population 23,000 suddenly found itself at the epicenter of the national immigration debate. Herndon residents are not xenophobic; their town has the highest percentage of foreign-born residents in the Washington region. But its also where three of the Sept. 11 hijackers stayed the night before they flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon. So theyve experienced firsthand the consequences of the nations experiment with uncontrolled immigration and decided the problems outweigh the benefits. The town has no issue with immigrants, Vice Mayor Dennis Husch told WTOP Radio after the ICE vote. The town has issues with illegal aliens.

And unlike many policymakers in Washington, Herndons elected officials and residents apparently have no problem differentiating between the two. The towns amazing transformation from a magnet for illegal aliens last year to a jurisdiction on the cutting edge of federal and local law enforcement efforts this year also proves that even on supposedly intractable issues like immigration, voters at the grassroots level really can make a difference.