Facing Immigration Fears: A Constructive Local Approach to Day Labor, Community, and Integration
Sandra Lazo de la Vega, Timothy Steigenga
As one of the most visible and vulnerable manifestations of the presence of Latino immigrants in “new destination” communities across the United States, day laborers have become a locus of conflict over the past fifteen years for local policy makers, advocacy organizations, and neighborhood residents. Communities have dealt with day labor in drastically different ways. Some have passed harsh anti-immigrant ordinances, hoping that a hostile environment will encourage immigrants to leave. Restrictionist state and local legislation, however, has proven costly to enforce, has been challenged in court, and has hindered immigrant integration. Other communities have gone against the restrictionist tide. This paper argues that organized day labor centers, such as the El Sol Resource Center in Jupiter, Florida address many of the fundamental fears that polarize local policymaking and the national immigration reform debate. In Jupiter, El Sol has not only eliminated a controversial open-air labor market by bringing the process into a formal and organized structure, it has also provided access to English and civics classes, preventive health screenings and legal services in cases of wage theft. Furthermore, through El Sol the Town of Jupiter has opened a two-way process of immigrant integration. Jupiter’s day laborers are no longer “hiding in the shadows”, but rather are engaging in active citizenship and working with native-born community volunteers to run the center.