Day Laborers Fear Being Left Out of Immigration Reform

Day laborers without permanent work may end up being left out of immigration reform. (Photo from Flickr, Creative Commons License)

“Work has been scarce lately,” said Ernesto, a day laborer looking for work near the Home Depot in Hempstead, L.I. “If I’m lucky  I work three days a week,” he added.

“And do you always work with the same boss? La Tribuna Hispana inquired.

“Well, sometimes the same boss will give us work for three days in a row,” he said, “but it’s almost always with a different boss because the jobs take only one day.”

Ernesto’s case is no exception. On the contrary, it’s common for the thousands of immigrants who earn a living as day laborers looking for work in the streets. They never have a permanent boss. And this could become a big problem for undocumented day laborers seeking to legalize their status.

Based on the initial proposals for an immigration reform bill, undocumented workers would have to confirm that they have a job, something impossible for day laborers. According to immigrant advocates, this also affects immigrant women who work as domestic workers.

“Day laborers who work temporary jobs don’t have a fixed boss and as a result, they don’t have a permanent job. The same goes for female domestic workers and other immigrant employees who work in informal sectors,” said Saúl Linares of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, which is concerned that these workers would be left out of immigration reform.

“If the clause on proving permanent employment is included in the proposals by Congress and the White House, the bills would exclude immigrant workers who live off temporary jobs,” explained Linares, adding that what politicians have presented to the public is a recycled bill that was proposed back in 2007 when George W. Bush was president.

“It’s a junk bill from 2007 that’s only good for political purposes,” added Linares. He emphasized that out of every 10 undocumented immigrant workers, on average, four work in the informal sector, changing jobs three to four times a year based on the season.

A Campaign Against Exclusion

Given the danger of undocumented workers being excluded from possible immigration reform, NDLON, based in Los Angeles and Washington D.C., is gearing up for a lobbying campaign on February 12 and 13 on Capitol Hill.

Among other objectives, they would urge politicians to remove the clause on demonstrating permanent employment from the bills that the Senate and House of Representatives will probably present in March.

“Le vamos a hacer hincapié a los senadores y congresistas que los proyectos de ley no pueden contener cláusulas que, al final, solo sirvan para excluir a un amplio sector de los trabajadores inmigrantes de obtener una legalización, sino también de seguir su camino hacia la residencia y la ciudadanía”, dijo Linares.

“We’re going to emphasize to senators and Congress members that these bills should not include clauses that in the end would only prevent a wide segment of immigrant workers from not just legalizing their status, but also from applying for residency and citizenship,” said Linares.

Linares explained that the clause on permanent employment isn’t the only exclusionary aspect.

“There are other clauses on training and language proficiency. The politicians should understand that some of our people are from the countryside and have very little education,” he said. “There are also groups of people who are illiterate in Spanish. For example, in Riverhead, New York, there is an indigenous Guatemalan community and its members only speak the dialect of their homeland.”

Add to all of this the possibility of the law that would require a series of payments, such as fines for having entered the U.S. illegally, overdue taxes, the cost of processing documents, as well as paying for legal counsel.

“These are four types of expenses that many immigrants aren’t in a position to pay, especially in these challenging economic times,” said Linares.

Stopping Deportations and Family Separations

Another critical issue that NDLON is contemplating bringing to the attention of the nation’s capital, in particular of President Barack Obama, is stopping deportations.

Pablo Alvarado, the director of NDLON, urged Obama in a statement to “immediately follow his speech with an order suspending deportations as the first step to open a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants,”

In this context, Obama clearly contradicts himself when on the one hand he tell the public that undocumented immigrants need a chance to live in the country legally but on the other marked his first term with an unprecedented record of 1.4 million deportations.

“Twenty thousand people were deported to El Salvador alone in 2012,” said Linares, who is of Salvadoran heritage. “In general, out of every 10 people who get deported, about four have children who were born in the U.S. So the government is continuing to break up families.”

Obama has the power to issue an executive order to halt the deportations of people who don’t have serious criminal records. If he does so, “he’ll prove that he truly wants to legalize undocumented immigrants,” said Alvarado.

On the other hand, if Obama continues to deport people and separate families, “he will continue to show that while he says one thing, in reality he does another,” criticized Linares.

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