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While rebuilding Sandy-struck areas, immigrant day laborers are undergoing hardships

Day laborers in NJ helping
with post-Sandy reconstruction

Some of the community groups that advocate on behalf of the New York metropolitan area’s day laborers pointed out on Nov. 8 that some hiring sites have been damaged during Hurricane Sandy, that many workers’ families have been forced to evacuate their homes, and that these workers -- who are helping to rebuild some of the devastated houses and communities in the region -- need their employers to provide better safety equipment.

The day laborers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants living in Queens, Long Island, Westchester County, New Jersey and elsewhere, are participating in reconstruction efforts, but have not seen their own rights safeguarded, said several representatives of day laborer groups, who held a telephone briefing for the media.

“In the rebuilding frenzy, there is a disregard for workers’ health and safety,” said Nadia Marin Molina, of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. “So often, employers don’t provide the equipment they are supposed to.”

One worker center in Brooklyn, the Bay Parkway hiring site, was severely damaged during Hurricane Sandy, and is not currently available to serve as a site where would-be employers can meet and hire prospective day laborers. “We don’t have a safe place to look for work,” said one day laborer, who spoke in Spanish, which was translated by one of the participants in the press briefing. “Now, we are basically left with nothing.”

By some estimates, day laborers have lost thousands of dollars in wages as a result of the recent storm. Others have been exposed to wage-and-hour violations by their employers, explained Ligia Guallpa, of the Worker Justice Project.

Thus far, an announcement by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unit of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that ICE would not focus on immigration enforcement actions related to victims of Sandy in the affected region seems to be true. “We have not seen any type of enforcement yet,” said Guallpa, “and hopefully we won’t see that.” Gonzalo Mercado, of El Centro del Inmigrante, which is helping about 20 families on Staten Island who have lost their homes to find food and shelter, has also not noticed any immigration enforcement actions taken by government authorities.

Some government organizations have tried to be helpful. Representatives from OSHA have come to Staten Island to provide information to day laborers on how they can stay safe on the job. FEMA is expected to send representatives in the near future. The Mexican consulate is trying to assist some displaced Mexican families with temporary housing.


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