By Maria Leon
TUCSON, ARIZONA – The economic crisis and anti-immigrant laws that have been approved in Arizona have become a lethal combination for manual laborers, who day by day are finding that they have fewer work options.
“Each day we see more laborers and less available work for them,” Josefina Ahumada, a social worker and head of the day laborer program at Tucson’s Southside Presbyterian Church, the only such program in the city, told Efe on Wednesday.
Each day, between 40 and 50 laborers come to the church starting at 5 a.m. in the hopes of landing work that will earn them a few dollars.
While the workers wait for an employer to arrive to request their services, they receive English classes from volunteer teachers.
“They teach them the most common words used in jobs like construction and gardening,” said Ahumada.
This week, the center has more than a dozen young volunteer students from California who this year decided to spend their spring vacations teaching the laborers in this way.
“Despite the fact that we have more and more laborers, it’s not the same number as last year, when we had between 60 and 70 per day,” said Ahumada.
The reduction in the number of workers is due to the lack of job opportunities in Tucson, which has caused many to decide to move to other states, above all the ones who have worked for years in construction.
For many anti-immigrant groups, the day workers have become the image of the undocumented immigrant, but Ahumada said that because of the economic slump there are more and more U.S. citizens and legal residents who are coming to the center seeking day work.
But for some, like Jesus Reyes, a day worker and volunteer at the work center, the greatest obstacle to finding a regular job is the law that went into effect in January 2008 mandating stiff penalties for Arizona businesses which knowingly employ undocumented immigrants.
The law obligates companies to verify the immigration status of their new workers, but some firms, out of fear of being sanctioned, have fired all the workers they “suspect” of being undocumented.
Originally from the Mexican border state of Sonora, Reyes said that he lost his job because of the state law and for a year he has not been able to find another job.
Another man who is having problems at present is Jose Flores, a Mexican immigrant who has lived in Arizona for four years.
Flores, 37, comes every day at 5 a.m. to the center. He says that in a “good week” he can get work on perhaps two days, during which he earns an average of $8 to $10 an hour.
“Here, I just live with my wife. I have two small children in Mexico, to whom I send money when I can, but it’s less and less that I can send them,” Flores said.
He agreed that, in part, the economic crisis Arizona is experiencing is a consequence of the state law sanctioning employers, since it ensures that many people are losing their jobs, after which they lose their homes because they don’t have the money to pay their mortgages.
He added that the fear that exists in Arizona is at times so great that before hiring a day worker, employers are asking them “if they have papers” to work legally in the United States.
Others come to the center asking only for workers who speak English.
Even so, in Tucson day workers are not facing the same problems with the local authorities as in other cities like Phoenix, where they complain constantly that they are the victims of harassment by law enforcement. EFE