Lone man protests Portland day-laborer center

PORTLAND — Tom Wenning calls himself a liberal and says he disagrees with conservative commentator Lars Larson on just about every issue.

Except one.

Several times a week, Wenning stages a one-man protest outside Portland's taxpayer-sponsored day laborer hiring center. He opposes illegal immigration, and thinks the city is promoting it by giving day laborers, many of them undocumented workers, a place to seek work.

"They are making it easy for them to stay here. They are enabling them to break the law," Wenning, 60, told The Oregonian recently. "Of course that makes me mad. That should make everyone who cares about our city and our country mad."

When potential employers arrive at the hiring site, Wenning takes pictures of them and their license plate. He hands them a paper explaining that the photos will be sent to the Internal Revenue Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Oregon Department of Revenue.

Most contractors take the sheet without saying a word.

Wenning said he's been getting increasingly frustrated with the federal government's inability to police the borders and local government's refusal to help enforce the laws. Hiring undocumented workers is against federal law, although crackdowns are rare.

Wenning disagrees with those who say illegal immigrants are taking jobs Americans don't want.

"It's not a racial thing. It's common sense," he says. "We don't have the natural resources to support all these people. We don't have the infrastructure. We don't have enough jobs. White people could do this work if there weren't all these illegals here doing them under the table for a lot less than anyone should get paid."

Last year, Mayor Tom Potter criticized the federal government after immigration agents raided a North Portland plant. He and the City Council later voted to spend $200,000 to start the day laborer center, making Portland one of 65 U.S. cities to offer laborers some kind of hiring center.

Potter contends that government should show compassion by giving the often-exploited workers a safe place to gather.

Wenning says city leaders ignored his questions when he testified during a three-hour hearing on the issue last spring.

"After that, I knew I had to do something," he says. "To go and speak and realize that they'd already made up their minds, I took it very personally."

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