Lonely wait for day laborers - East Valley Tribune: News

Lonely wait for day laborers

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Posted: Thursday, July 17, 2003 10:56 pm | Updated: 2:26 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

As each new day breaks over the desert, laborers gather at the Light and Life Day Labor Center in Chandler hoping to find work.

But work has been slow to come to the site, a gathering place for day laborers that has been up and running for nearly two months.

The Rev. Jose Gonzalez, who oversees the location, said employers still are reluctant to come. As a result, many laborers are returning to street corners hoping to be picked up for day jobs by passing contractors.

Gonzalez said the center's slow progress has not discouraged his mission.

"The center is designed for about 100 or 150 people and we have the infrastructure through volunteers to help them," Gonzalez said. "We're not so much looking at what is happening, but what can happen in the future."

Gonzalez said the number of workers gathering at the labor center has decreased from 90 laborers on the first day to between 15 and 20 daily.

Volunteers at the center, 501 S. Arizona Ave., said contractors may be avoiding the labor site because they fear prosecution for hiring illegal immigrants. Local officials believe undocumented workers from Mexico often are among the people who gather on street corners in Chandler and Mesa waiting to be picked up for day jobs.

The Chandler center was designed to get them off the street. A similar effort is being pushed by the Community Action Network in Mesa. Russell Ahr, spokesman for immigration and customs enforcement in Arizona, with the federal Bureau of Immigration Customs and Enforcement, said it is illegal for companies to hire someone, even for a day, without filing the proper paperwork, called an I-9 form.

"That form states that the employee must prove their identity and eligibility to work in the United States," Ahr said. "(Prospective employees) must provide an acceptable form of government issued identification."

But enforcing the law with East Valley day laborers hasn't been a priority.

Ahr said the federal Homeland Security Department has its hands full dealing with terrorism threats.

"We are not surveilling these hiring centers because there are undocumented people that are there working," Ahr said. "We are focusing on undocumented (workers) that present a danger to the community such as drug traffickers or (illegal immigrants) already convicted of felonies such as rape, assault or terrorism."

Chandler resident Jim Peña, who has gone to the Chandler center to find work, said many laborers fear they are being set up by the Immigration and Naturalization Services for a "roundup."

"I think people are afraid to come here," Peña said. "It's going to take a while before the workers trust this place to come here."

Valentin Saavedra has been going to the center to find work.

"There's wrong information on the street, like that you have to pay $10 to get on the list and that's just wrong because it's totally free," Saavedra said. Lazaro Cruz has been using the center since it opened May 30.

"One of the down sides is that the contractors who pick up laborers on the street already know a lot of the workers and have a relationship with them, but I'll keep coming here because it's a better situation," Cruz said.

Both men said Chandler should become involved in getting the contractors to use the center.

City Councilwoman Patti Bruno agrees the city needs to do more to encourage laborers and contractors to use the center.

"We have distributed fliers to various contractors that use the landfill," Bruno said. "I am really concerned that we are not doing enough. We are asking Pastor Joe and others in charge of (the center) what we can do to help."

Bruno said city staff is looking into possible alternatives, such as enacting a no loitering law to force day laborers off streets and to the site. The city also is considering no parking signs to deter contractors from stopping along Arizona Avenue. She also said a work visa program may help.

"I just think that we as a city have to do something about a work visa program," Bruno said. "That's going to take some strong leadership and it's something we need to do. It's something that needs to be dealt with at the state level as well as the national level."

Gonzalez said despite the slow start, the effort has had some benefits already.

"We have learned more about how the workers think and what works," Gonzalez said. "All of the workers on the streets haven't taken a chance on the center, but those that have are making it better."

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