Tomball day labor site raises controversy

TOMBALL, TX Ten years ago the city of Tomball found it had a significant problem with day laborers congregating in front of businesses, leaving some customers feeling intimidated. So the city built this facility, but now some are calling for it to be shut down.

But some say the day labor site off Main Street in downtown Tomball is only a breeding ground for illegal activity and crime. Police tell a different story.

Critics say it's not unusual to see drug deals and prostitution here at the day labor site. They insist someone is living here, pointing to a sleeping bag, food and other household items as evidence. It's a city-run facility -- a place for people to come to look for work. But opponents argue it's violating federal law because some of those people are in this country illegally.

Scott Bartholomew with the Tomball Tea Party said, "For the city to promote illegal activity is just unconscionable. And for them to use taxpayer dollars to promote something illegal, I find just unfathomable."

Bartholomew says taxpayer money could be better spent.

"They come here for the American dream. Does this look like the American dream? This looks like something out of the 'Grapes of Wrath,'" he said.

City leaders say they've spent about $10,000 building the awning and picnic tables, even renting the port-o-johns. Tomball pays about $1,500 a year in tax dollars to property owners to use the site. That lease is up for renewal, and the Tomball Tea Party is trying to stop that.

"I think it's time the city steps up to the plate and they close this down," said Richard Smith with the Tomball Tea Party.

Not everyone at the site is here illegally.

Worker Daniel Gomez said, "We just came here to make some money and pay our bills and help our people."

Gomez, though, knows he likely is the exception and not the rule.

He said, "Most of those guys don't got papers. I got mine."

Tomball police insist there is little crime here and that there's been only one call for service here in more than two years. The police chief supports the existence of the day labor site.

Tomball Police Chief Robert Hauck said, "If they don't have a place to go, that's exactly what they'll do. They'll find a place."

The chief says that could happen again if the site is shut down.

"Closing the day labor site does not make people vanish," said Chief Hauck.

The police chief also says it makes it more difficult to police if workers are congregating in multiple locations.

City Councilman Derek Townsend says he wants to figure out a way to only allow those in the country legally to congregate here. Tomball City Council is scheduled to vote on renewing the land lease in December.

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