Day Laborer Hiring Sites

The proliferation of day laborer hiring sites has paralleled the explosion of the illegal alien problem in the United States. What was once largely a problem confined to large city sweatshops and seasonal crop agriculture has expanded enormously as illegal aliens have spread across the country into the meat processing industry, construction, assembly-line work, services such as landscaping, and all sorts of casual day labor jobs.  Studies show 84 percent of day laborers are illegal immigrants.1

While there are for-profit temp agencies that supply day laborers, most of the groups that refuse to screen for legal entitlement to work in the United States are run by non-profit groups, often with ties to churches or ethnic organizations, and sometimes receiving public funding. The hiring sites that have mushroomed around the country generally have been created to deal with the problems caused by groups of immigrant workers (largely illegal aliens) who congregate on street corners waiting for persons seeking laborers to drive by. In some areas, these informal hiring sites have caused traffic disturbances, and the lack of sanitary facilities has often led to public urination. Nearby established businesses have often complained to the police that the gatherings drive away their clients. Other common complaints include public drunkenness and harassment of pedestrians

In response, some private groups (often including Latino service groups and church-based groups) have worked to get local governments to establish formal hiring sites to get these workers off the streets. Part of this approach is to establish an orderly process for the workers to match up with employers and to establish a record of the employer so that if there is a complaint of non-payment, there is a basis for investigation.

Day Labor Centers Ignore Rules Against Illegal Workers

The reason that day labor hiring sites should not be tolerated by local governments is that they ignore the issue of the work status of the worker, thus facilitating illegal immigration. The center managers argue that it is the responsibility of the employers, not them, to verify the work eligibility of the employee hired. While this may be technically correct, if there is local government support for a hiring site, it is reasonable for a prospective employer to assume that the worker who is made available through the site is legally entitled to work. Thus, the hiring centers may not only facilitate the employment of unauthorized workers, they may also encourage the employer of the day laborer to break the law against hiring illegal aliens.

Hiring Illegal Aliens at a Day Labor Center is a Crime

Since the adoption in 1986 of the Immigration Reduction and Control Act (IRCA), it has been illegal for an employer to hire an illegal alien. The IRCA gave rise to a system of document checking by empoyers (the I-9 form) to control against violations.

In 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act amended the Immigration and Nationality Act to prohibit the hiring or continued employment of an unauthorized alien.2 Violation of this law involves the felony of concealing, harboring, and shielding illegal aliens from detection and is demonstrated when employees lack work authorization documents, are paid in cash, Social Security or federal taxes are not withheld, and the employer fails to pay employer contributions.3

Day Labor Centers Drive Down Work Conditions for Legal Workers

All state governments and most, if not all, county governments and large city governments operate labor departments funded by federal and state unemployment trust accounts. Their responsibility is to try to match out-of-work residents (often receiving unemployment benefits) with employers seeking workers. These labor departments assist job placement of legally employable workers. The day labor hiring centers that are currently erupting in areas of large concentrations of illegal aliens circumvent and undermine the taxpayer-funded operation of the government employment offices. Among the screening standards provided by an official placement office is assuring that the employment complies with legal requirements, such as the minimum wage and overtime payments. The employer sanctions provisions of the immigration law specifically provide that workers hired through a state employment agency are to be considered legal workers.4

Employers hiring workers from day labor centers often will avoid legal standards, pay less than the minimum wage, fail to withhold salary for taxes, and avoid paying into the unemployment fund and other expenses. Those employers illegally cut the costs of employment and, in the process, decrease the job opportunities for qualified workers who may be unemployed, but who are unwilling to work for cash payments under the table. As a result of this process, the wages that a qualified worker may earn become depressed towards the wages that the illegal workers are willing to accept. The effect of the day labor centers is, therefore, to benefit the illegal alien workers and the employers who are breaking the law in hiring them, while at the same time undercutting the earning potential and opportunities for some of the country’s most needy workers. It also increases the burden on taxpayers because of the cost of general assistance provided to the out-of-work residents.

Day Labor Centers Depress Working Standards

Many of the employers of day laborers are contractors who are working on construction sites. They use day laborers because it offers greater flexibility as the workload fluctuates depending on weather and the economy. Such construction contract work is highly competitive, and unless the contractor is working on a government contract, the cost of wages may determine who wins the contract. In this kind of environment, the contractor who cuts labor costs by suppressing wages has an advantage, something that using illegal workers helps to achieve.

A contractor who is scrupulous about respecting the law and hiring only legal workers may thus be at a comparative disadvantage in competing for a contract. Over time, greater pressure will develop for all competitors to use illegal workers, and the wages that are offered to day laborers may become depressed so far that legal workers are unwilling to take these jobs.

Greg Feere, the head of the Contra Costa (Calif.) Building and Construction Trade Council explains, "What it [the day laborer hiring site] basically does is put a legitimate contractor at a disadvantage. You get non-union contractors who don't work by the rules, don't offer worker's compensation and pay with cash."5

Day Labor Centers Attract Additional Illegal Immigrants

A day labor hiring center that makes no distinction between legal and illegal workers sends a message to illegal workers that our society does not care whether a worker is legally in the country or is in violation of our immigration law. It also invites other illegal aliens to come and take advantage of the inviting environment.

For example, in New Jersey where several day labor hiring centers have been established, the number of workers seeking to find jobs through these centers has continuously increased so that pressure has been created to establish still additional informal hiring sites. By accommodating this, local governments are creating conditions whereby the population of illegal workers will simply expand and generate further pressures until such time that the demand for such workers is entirely fulfilled, at which time the community is likely to find that it has a large number of unemployed illegal aliens as well as legal residents.

What Can We Do?

The most important point to remember is that local action has succeeded in confronting and deterring the proliferation of day labor hiring sites. Check out our Take Action section.

The actions will vary depending on the circumstances, but they include:

  • Encouraging local residents and merchants to complain to law enforcement and local government bodies about loitering, public urination, litter, or sexual harassment problems.
  • Pressing local governments to enact an ordinance to prohibit all solicitations of moving vehicles.
  • Filing lawsuits based on public nuisance laws.
  • Creating a photographic record of curbside hiring - both of laborers and employers, which can document the hiring activity and those involved in it. (The funders and managers of day labor hiring sites are legally accountable if it can be shown to have actual knowledge that hiring hall users or beneficiaries include illegal aliens or other unauthorized workers.)
  • Identifying and documenting the amounts and sources of financial support used to pay for the hiring hall. If Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds are used to pay for services to illegal aliens, statutes restricting the use of federal funds may have been violated.
  • Organizing protest activities.

[1] Abel Valenzuela Jr., "Day labourers as entrepreneurs? Mexican immigrants in Los Angeles Area," Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, April 1, 2001.

[2] INA € 174A - 8 U.S.C. 1324a.

[3] See US v. Zheng, No. 01-15551 (11th Cir., September 17, 2001), the 11th Circuit Ct of Appeals, which confirmed and expanded the 1999 2nd Circuit ruling in US v Kim)). If the center that facilitates the hiring of unauthorized workers gains any profit from the activity, it too could be found in violation of this law.

[4] INA € 274A(a)(5)

[5] Contra Costa Times, October 21, 2002.

Updated 12/02