Sunday, February 24, 2008

Stamford Day Laborers= Criminals?

Two months ago I got a police survey in the mail. One section put me in a tizzy: Now please rate the Stamford Police Department on how well you feel they resolve each of these community issues. Please X one box for each. Issues ranged from Assault, Robbery, and Gang Violence to Loitering, Traffic Flow, Litter, Homeless/Vagrants, and Computer Fraud. Two of the last “community issues” mentioned were skateboarding in public places and… day laborers.

That progression seemed odd to me. Parking, Litter, Skateboarding, and… Day Laborers? On the survey, I scrawled: How is that an issue? What do they do that is bad? I added, What do they do that is criminal? Are you assuming they are illegal immigrants?

I understand that many—not all-- day laborers are undocumented immigrants. However, Stamford police have no authority to enforce federal immigration laws. Danbury is the only CT city taking part in the program that gives police that authority. (Read this informative yet delightfully understandable article from the Stamford Times.) If the problem is illegal immigration, that’s a national issue, and Stamford Police can’t do much. So... what is the survey asking?

I don’t think it’s asking how well police are resolving issues faced by the day laborers themselves, such as having unsafe working conditions or not getting paid.

I’m left to conclude that the question means what it says: that the day laborers are an issue. These people are a problem. Why? I’ve only seen day laborers standing off exit 9 acting quite pleasant, so explain to me what the problem is. Are they committing crimes? If so, say, “crimes committed by day laborers” or “public urination off exit 9.” This survey question bothers me because it implies that we all have a basic understanding of why day laborers are a problem in Stamford. I see why litter, assault, and credit card fraud are problems, but being a day laborer is not a crime. Not paying a day laborer is a crime, but I don’t think that’s what the survey is talking about.

I think the survey is asking, Are these people bothering you?

The police have to mention day labor because it’s a hot topic in this city, but they only succeed in implying that all day laborers are criminals. Their vague attempt to address the issue reflects the complicated nature of discussing immigration. At heart, most of us are ambivalent. We can all talk about immigration policy in the abstract, but it’s hard to look at a person standing off exit 9 and declare, You should be back in Mexico.

What is our day laborer issue, and is there anything the police should do about it?

7 comments:

zobot said...

Yes, in fact, for the majority (+75%) of Day Laborers, your title of Day Laborer = Criminal is correct. I'm not saying that being an illegal immigrant makes them bad people, but they are breaking a federal law.

Other than driving past the day laborers on my way to work I haven't had any interactions with them. However, Stamford's East Side had (has?) a neighborhood association and they have a couple of interesting articles on their website.

The Day Laborer Survey article is interesting in that it talks specifically about the income, demographics, and hiring trends of Day Laborers. It also highlights some of the problems that local businesses and commuters have had with day laborers.

One thing to note is that this article is almost 2 years old, so some of the East Main area has changed. For example, the Dunkin Donuts they refer to is the old shop which was sold and knocked down for the new East Side Commons development.

Day Laborers are a fact of life here. There is obvious demand for their services. If there were no demand, the problem would go away. However, since demand isn't likely to go away, the question to me is how to let the day laborers provide their services in ways that do not impede the rights of business owners and other residents.

That's where the Stamford Police come in. They may not have ICE powers, but they are here to provide for the safety and security of all residents. To that end, an acknowledgment of the impact of day laborers and their hiring practices on the city population, is relevant survey fodder.

Stamford tried creating the No Hassle Zone down by Exit 8, but that clearly hasn't worked. It's time to go back to the drawing board.

-Mr. Z

(PS. That East Side website also has some cool (brief) info on the two new condo complexes being built on East Main. It'll be interesting to see how the further gentrification of the neighborhood impacts the issue we're discussing now)

East Sider said...

Actually, the "no hassle" zone at Exit 8 works pretty well compared to the major problems that existed at the Dunkin Donuts that used to be on East Main.

But I should go back and say, first of all, THANK YOU, StamfordTalk, for not scapegoating immigrants or feeding anti-laborer hysteria! It's a breath of fresh air to read your perspective.

Entering the country illegally is a civil infraction. Just existing here is not a CRIME. Therefore, day laborers who lack legal resident status are no more CRIMINALS than any one of us who has committed a civil infraction in the past and gotten away with it.

That's not to say that we shouldn't do a better job of securing our borders or, better yet, addressing the long-term big picture economic conditions that devastated Mexico's agricultural economy and stagnate economic growth in Latin America. But that's beyond the scope of what we can do in Stamford!

As an East Sider, my life has been impacted to some degree by an influx of immigrants, many undocumented, into our community. The biggest impact is in overoccupation in multi-family housing -- two family houses now housing three or four families, with resulting overcrowding on street parking, etc. That's not good. But I don't demonize the immigrants for that. They need affordable places to live and they're just trying to scrape by a living for their families. I do, however, think that Stamford should do a better job of:

1) Building more affordable units
2) Enforcing existing occupancy codes and zoning limits

It's ridiculous that Stamford leaders congratulated themselves that 10% of units built at places like the new Eastside Commons will be affordable. Um. How about making them all affordable???? Do we really need more luxury condos in Stamford? (That's rhetorical. NO.)

I vehemently oppose having local police engage in federal immigration enforcement. The local police should intervene in issues with day laborers only if they are engaging in criminal activity, littering (which is a problem at Exit 8) or hassling customers at local businesses, which seems to be much better now that most day laborers wait by Exit 8, not on East Main.

Stamford Talk said...

Eastsider, thank you for the Stamford Talk props, and for leaving such great comments.

There certainly is anti-labor hysteria- I was very surprised to read, in the Advocate article Zobot provided, that there are only 250 day laborers! From how worked up people get, I’d expect there to be 1,000. I’d be eager, however, to know how those numbers have changed in the 2 years since the survey.

Eastsider and Zobot both mention housing- that seems like a hotter topic than day laborers because more residents are affected by over-crowded housing in their neighborhoods. It does seem that Stamford police could cut down on some of the resentment of immigrants by enforcing housing codes. It must be frustrating to look out your window everyday and see people taking advantage of lax enforcement. (I say lax, but I know Stamford Police are enforcing other things. Also, I’m not saying it’s only immigrants who take advantage of housing codes- I don’t know enough about the subject to say either way.)

I’m also surprised, given people’s outrage on this subject, that being here illegally is only a civil infraction. I know there was legislation to make it a felony, but I don't think it passed.

zobot said...

Though I disagree with East Sider's characterization of the nature of the immigration infraction, we're all to discuss Stamford, so that's what I'll do!

I agree that overcrowding of housing units is a problem. I know of some townhomes in Stamford where converted basements and garages have transformed 2-bedroom/1-family units into 2- and 3-family dwellings. It is hard to make ends meet for many of our city's residents, so I appreciate why some people choose to live in such a fashion.

Enforcing existing housing codes seems likely only to punish people who are trying to make ends meet and can't do so in our economy any other way. We can force the additional people out of the housing units, but then where do the people go?

Affordable housing is the answer, but how one gets there is another story.

If the market will support additional luxury condos, then I suppose we did, in fact, need them. If they sit empty for long periods of time, well, I guess the developer should have built only affordable and moderate income units.

There is affordable, public housing, available through the city of Stamford. However, I assume that illegal aliens cannot take advantage of public housing. Should they be able to do so?

The government refuses services to illegal immigrants it doesn't seem right to me that we'd consider forcing private developers to build only affordable units as an alternative.

I don't have all the answers, but I'm enjoying discussing the problem...

Ali said...

The New York Times did a piece in their Tristate/Region section not too long ago (maybe a week or two) about Danbury's discussions about day laborers, immigration and police working with INS. You should check it out...

Also, I had no idea there is/was an East Side neighborhood association, and I've been living in the East Side for close to 5 years. Guess you really do learn something new every day...

East Sider said...

Ali, the East Side Partnership is not really a neighborhood association. I wish it was. It's really not focused on residents of the East Side. The meetings are very much focused on the needs of small business owners and big property owners on the East Side. It's not run by or for residents.

It's better than nothing, but it would be much better if we actually had a real residents association.

I went to a few East Side partnership meetings but honestly I gave up out of frustration. The meetings I attended were all about how to get more development of luxury highrises on East Main Street, and people dismissed all concerns about traffic and overdevelopment or impact on existing neighborhoods.

Timmy said...

They say that there is around 117,000 day laborers at all times looking for work around the U.S. and when these laborers can't find work, people feel sorry for them. They feel so sorry for them that we build day labor pick-up sites to help them find work and at this point I'm sure we all know the kind of money The Home Depot is investing. But what about the 7.8 million Americans that are unemployed, who's building day labor pick up sites for them ?

I recently spoke to a person that was in the lending industry working for a fairly large company that laid them off due to no work, surprise, surprise. They have been searching for work for months but they said they just can't find a job. So I asked them what they were doing to pay the bills and they said they would do just about anything at this point. They said the other day they went on to the website POSTaNEED and picked up a job cleaning a house for $70. I said you went from a professional career to cleaning houses ? They said, "sure why not its work and it pays my bills. I was really happy to make some money and the homeowner was happy they could help me."

I took some time to look in to this website they were talking about, www.POSTaNEED.com, and I realized something very simple with this free little website. "It could change the day labor industry over night." Lets face it, every business could benefit from "hiring workers when there is work" and what this website is doing is connecting these 7.8 million unemployed people with individuals or businesses that could really use their help with out standing on the streets. Its a win, win situation for both business and the 7.8 million unemployed, yet we still shell out millions if not billions, in private money from business like The Home Depot, and tax payers money to deal with 117,000 or so day laborers.

As well, I remember when I was going to college I could really use a little money but, obviously, I couldn't take on a full time job while taking 18 units. The only answer was to pick up odd jobs from here to there. However once the work of mouth, from the circle of people I knew, ran out of available work, there was no real way to find odd jobs. With this website, people that needed odd jobs done, like "their home cleaned" and businesses that could always use workers on an "as needed basis" could offer the 6.1 million college students and the 7.8 million people unemployed, (www.bls.gov) work to get a head.

Why are we spending so much time protesting on the streets and spend unheard of amounts of money on 117,000 people when we have a work force of 13.9 million people that could really use the work. More so, people could pick up these jobs from their home computer not from a neighborhood street if we all just "postaneed" !

Is the answer really that simple ? Use a website to stop people from loitering communities, to curve illegal immigration, and to offer jobs to 13.9 million people that really need them. I still study this website with its possible effects and if I had yard work to do, I would post it, and if I had a business I would take as much advantage of postaneed as I could, because we have to remember that there are also legal Americans that want to work, that need to work.