CENTERVILLE, VIRGINIA —
Illegal immigrants are an important source for day labor in America, although their legal status is frequently at the center of the U.S. political debate. Day-to-day work is not always guaranteed, but a special kind of organization, the Day Labor Center, helps undocumented immigrants to both find work and receive fair compensation.
At the Day Labor Center in Centreville, Virginia, Felix Ceto from Guatemala is waiting for a day job. At 34, Felix has been living in America for seven years, and can only speak very limited English.
“Well, most of the people from my country are here because we want to support our families; to contribute for food, clothing, education, let's say... anything that the family needs,” said Ceto.
He uses social media to communicate with his parents, wife, and two children.
“The plan that I have is to go back, because every day I miss my family more and more,” he said.
Molly Maddra-Santiago heads the Centreville Day Labor Center, which strives to protect day laborers, many of whom are vulnerable because of they are undocumented.
“Because they are immigrants, they are easily exploited. We exist to make sure that doesn’t happen. Workers here are typically paid at least $12/hour for any job that they do,” she said.
Salvador Sarmiento, a representative of the National Day Labor Organizing Network, said there is a major issue of wage theft in the U.S., especially for day laborers. Yet even as undocumented immigrants, he said, they have the right to fair compensation.
“The law is very clear… [There are] constitutional protections for all workers, whether they are undocumented or are documented, whether they are immigrants or citizens,” said Sarmiento.
The staff at the Day Labor Center help establish profiles and match employers and day laborers. In addition to helping find work for those who want it, the Day Labor Center also provides free classes. English lessons and home renovation courses are the most popular.
Ceto and his friend were employed on a recent day by Austin Acocella, who needed help with leaf removal in his backyard.
“I thank God I got the opportunity to be in this country. Even though you suffer a lot when you come here, I'm thankful that we are fine here and as well. I thank very much the people that opened this center because it's very important for us,” said Ceto.
Ceto dreams that one day he can make enough money to go home and see his family.