They’ve been part of the Southern California landscape for close to four decades: immigrant laborers waiting for work on sidewalks and street corners, swarming drivers as they pull up, ready to move furniture, paint walls, pull weeds, do whatever needs doing, reports the Los Angeles Times. But now, as the housing boom increases the demand for cheap labor and workers become more organized, the sites where they gather have become a battleground in the widening debate over illegal immigration.
Cities throughout California and around the nation are struggling to cope with the sheer numbers of day laborers, or jornaleros. Critics say the sites not only encourage people to come to the U.S. illegally, but also create traffic jams and are eyesores. Supporters say the workers are simply trying to make an honest living and are crucial to local economies. But, as cities are discovering, the issue is far more complicated than that. In the same cities where there are protests against the laborers, there is a high demand for their work. “Every major city, even smaller cities, are struggling with this,” said Victor Narro, project director at the UCLA Downtown Labor Center. “It’s become a national issue.”