Immigrant Workers in Phoenix
Before the sun even rises in Phoenix, out of the closing shadows of night, dark and quiet silhouettes begin to appear. They are the silhouettes of working men who rise before the sun rises, each with the hope of obtaining work and earning money to help support their families. These men are usually assumed to be immigrants without the proper paperwork to work in the United States. They are also better known as day laborers.
These so-called “day laborers” congregate on street corners or in the parking lots of builders’ stores awaiting the arrival of employers who will hire them for a day’s work. Some cities have tried to ban this type of “recruiting” while others have accepted it as inevitable.
In Phoenix alone there are an estimated 2,500 day laborers ready, willing and able to work each and every day that stand on street corners hoping and praying they will be picked up by someone to work. Some days their prayers are answered and on others they are not.
Before September 11, 2001, you saw them everywhere – in hard hats on construction sites, working as landscapers, painters and just about anything else one can imagine. Today, these migrant workers are struggling under a sputtering economy and the harsh glare of the escalating U.S. homeland security system. To add even more problems to their already full plate, the immigration service in Phoenix is warning contractors against hiring undocumented day laborers. The warnings are taking a toll on many laborers in north Phoenix who had been getting constant work.
“I’ve worked only two days since last week” said Ruben Fuentes, a native of Tijuana. At the break of dawn on a Tuesday morning, the 20-year-old Fuentes joined dozens of others at the corner of Greenway Road and 29th Street to wait for someone to pick them up. “It’s getting harder,” he added and from my viewpoint, it looked like more men were left standing than were picked up for work on the day I chose to visit.
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