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Hiring site's not a City Hall issue

Portland City Hall seems to be on a misguided mission to prove that there's no problem it shouldn't try to fix. How else can you explain Mayor Tom Potter's latest initiative - endorsed by all city commissioners - to spend tax dollars to create a hiring site for day laborers?

We understand the humanitarian instincts that led Potter and other community members to propose such a center. But it is not City Hall's role to solve every social issue. Some matters are best left to nonprofit agencies or to the business community to resolve - and the day-labor issue certainly should fall into the nongovernment category.

As reported in the Portland Tribune in July, Potter is investing $200,000 in public money into the day-labor center and has hired a consultant for $20,000 to lead the work of a 33-member advisory committee. His goal is to find another group to run the center and have it operational by January.

Proponents of the center say it would reduce criminal activity in areas where laborers now gather in search of daily work. They argue that similar centers in other communities have proven to be a pragmatic way of controlling day-labor problems and of providing a safer gathering place for workers and prospective employers.

Those motivations are admirable. But a hiring center created by the city also raises very real concerns - including the risk that Portland will become embroiled in an ugly battle over illegal immigration.

By all accounts, a large percentage of day laborers are undocumented workers. If the city assists in creating a center where hundreds of illegal immigrants come to find work each day, it rightly will be accused of using tax dollars to encourage the violation of federal law.

At least one group - Judicial Watch in Washington, D.C. - already has filed lawsuits in other communities based on that premise.

We believe most Portlanders expect their city government to provide basic services - streets, police coverage, fire protection and water and sewer service come to mind. They aren't looking for local government to create hiring centers or to challenge federal immigration or employment policies.

A city-funded hiring center in Portland may be intended to clean up existing problems with day laborers, but it's also an invitation for unending trouble - legal and otherwise. Potter and city commissioners should back away from this venture before it becomes a costly, controversial quagmire.