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All in a day's work

January 23, 2006

SOMEHOW WE EXPECTED MORE from the grand opening of the new Home Depot in Burbank 11 days ago. Sure, there were plenty of helpful folks in orange aprons, and an ample supply of festive balloons. And it wasn't as if you couldn't get your hands on a well-priced roll of duct tape.

But anyone hoping Burbank would live up to its billing as the new epicenter of the debate over undocumented workers, as a place where CNN anchor Lou Dobbs was reporting that "residents [were] in open revolt," would have been sorely disappointed. Those of us who think the immigration debate could do without parking-lot standoffs and prefabricated sound bites, on the other hand, were encouraged.

The would-be hullabaloo had to do with the opening of a day-laborer center in the far corner of the store's parking lot. The center is a modest, concrete-block affair that offers shelter from the sun, a few metal picnic tables and a storage closet for workers. Home Depot built it, and pays $94,000 a year for its upkeep, at the behest of the Burbank City Council. The hope is that laborers will go to the center rather than pester Home Depot customers for work.

Everyone figured there'd be trouble on opening day. A protest, maybe even some hostility. Police expected to encounter unhappy citizens, like the dozens who had flocked to a City Council meeting earlier that week, complaining that the center would cost American jobs. Camera crews no doubt hoped to tape intimidated workers, cowering in the corners.

But the only thing on display was indifference. The executive director of the anti-illegal-immigration group Save Our State had arrived at 6 a.m. to talk with journalists, but by 9 o'clock, the center was positively sleepy, with just a dozen or so workers hanging around the picnic tables and shooting the breeze.

By lunchtime, the workers had gone. If anybody from Home Depot was concerned about the ethical or legal implications of supporting an operation that would place undocumented workers, he didn't show it. A company spokesperson had already left the premises. The store had filled up with shoppers. Orange carts floated like buoys among the cars in the parking lot.

Sometimes, as the saying goes, no news really is good news.

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