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Report: Day Laborers Exploited in Wake of Hurricane Harvey

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The following was authored by Scott Braddock and originally published on Construction Citizen:

The fact that President Donald Trump’s administration is cracking down on unauthorized immigrants in the wake of Hurricane Harvey is already making it much harder to rebuild portions of the Gulf Coast. 

That’s according to an Associated Press report out this week that suggests unauthorized workers are badly needed in the rebuilding effort while simultaneously living with the reality that they could be ejected from the country at any time:

Day laborers interviewed by The Associated Press said they've been hired by a mix of individual homeowners, work crews from out of state, and subcontractors working on residential and commercial buildings. Mostly immigrants, they operate in plain sight, gathering early in the morning in parking lots near construction stores and gas stations, and waiting to be offered work.

Advocates from the National Day Laborer Organizing Network recently fanned out to these sites with pens and clipboards to survey the workers about the conditions they're experiencing. Interviews suggested most are routinely exposed to mold and contamination, and aren't aware of legal protections they have even if they're not in the country legally. Advocates have been passing out flyers with information and holding worker trainings.

About a quarter of the more than 350 workers surveyed said they had been denied wages promised for cleanup work after Harvey, sometimes by employers who abandoned them at work sites after they had completed a job, according to a report on the survey by Nik Theodore, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Around 85 percent had not received safety training. 

More than 70 percent of the day laborers are in the U.S. illegally, some of them having previously been deported, the survey found. Their wages have stayed at around $100 a day, according to the survey, though some individual laborers said they were being paid more after the hurricane.

The Associated Press also quotes the head of a major construction firm in Houston: 

"These people are scared," said Stan Marek, who owns a Houston-based construction company and has long pushed for a program to legalize workers. "They're not going to go to the police if they get robbed. It's a formula for disaster in our community."

Marek was among those who predicted this would happen. 

In a September forum in Houston, Marek and others argued that a variety of factors would create the perfect storm for workforce on the Gulf Coast. Among them: The end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the passage of a state-level crackdown on immigrants called Senate Bill 4, and the hurricane itself.