WASHINGTON — For the scores of illegal migrants looking for a day job on a bustling highway outside Washington, any small risk of arrest was far outweighed by the potential reward: 10 to 20 times better pay for a day’s work than if they were at home.
“Poverty in our countries is so great; there is just not enough to live on. This country is good for work. You can make 100 dollars a day, which would take at least three weeks” at home, Fredys Hernandez, 50, of Honduras, told Agence France-Presse.
Hernandez is pleased that he can make money to send home, but plagued by the lingering anxiety about being deported that grips many undocumented workers.
“We are intruders. We are criminals. People here don’t want us to be here, and it stresses me out,” he says, though he acknowledges he has had no problems with “la migra,” the immigration authorities.
Indeed, getting arrested or deported is not such everyday fare in the United States, a country of 300 million citizens settled by wave after wave of immigrants.
In the shadow of fast food restaurants and grocery stores, police look on just a few meters (yards) away, every single day as workers in this parking lot, all in the United States illegally, wait in plain sight, day in and day out, for work as laborers in construction, landscaping or painting.
It is not the local police’s job to address potential immigration infractions. That falls exclusively to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which more often focuses on reports of problems with undocumented workers in industrial or agricultural settings, than in public places.
“Those informal arrangements known as day labor sites are not a priority for us,” ICA spokeswoman Pat Riley told AFP. “We are trying to shut the [illegal recruitment] tap off at the employer level.”
In 2006, US immigration officials made just 283,000 arrests for immigration-related offenses, out of an estimated total of over 12 million undocumented workers in the United States.
Forget about crackdowns. There are no mass roundups here.
Workers who come to this spot in Virginia every day, where labor supply and demand rarely collide with the law, recalled a single occasion when someone was picked up for an immigration infraction nearby.
“It’s all clear. There is no danger [with migration officials]. The only problem is work — sometimes you get a day job, and sometimes you don’t,” said Jose Jerez, 32, who recently arrived from impoverished Guatemala hoping to build a better life.
President George W. Bush’s administration, which has backed an idea for a guest worker program, hoped it could make immigration reform a success. But it has not succeeded in getting any reform through Congress.
Conservatives in June opposed the Bush effort because they said it did not do enough to seal US borders to illegal immigrants. Democrats from conservative districts also found it difficult to support the bill, and some fretted at the terms of its “low wage” guest worker program.
The measure would have granted an eventual path to legal status to illegal immigrants.
Jose Alvarez said he had never seen anyone get picked up, after years of work in the United States.
And Alvarez, 47, a laborer who said he would not have been able to have his children study in his native Nicaragua without working illegally here, has realized his American dream: his children have become an engineer and a psychologist.inquirer.net