Each day, Stamford's 'jornaleros' navigate uncertainty and exclusion in search of work
Day laborers, or jornaleros as they are called in Spanish, are immigrant workers who depend on finding a job each day. In Stamford, they gather each morning near I-95 at a corner they call "El Palomar" and wait for luck to cross their path — hoping a potential employer offers them a temporary job in the clandestine labor market.
Mauro V. is an undocumented jornalero from Honduras. He asked to only use his first name because of his documentation status. He said the pay is under the table, while workers face a life of uncertainty, and exclusion.
"Everyone does what they can,” Mauro said. “If you have the experience, you do the job. I’m a painter and make ceramics. But sometimes [employers] ask you for health insurance, which I don't have, so they take advantage and pay you much less."
While it is illegal for an employer not to pay or threaten a jornalero, it does happen. The Migration Policy Institute said roughly 113,000 undocumented immigrants lived in Connecticut in 2022, and almost 60% of this population does not have health insurance.
Anka Badurina is the executive director at Building One Community, a Stamford organization that has worked for years to gain trust among the jornaleros in their world of uncertainty. Badurina said they’ve helped 15,000 immigrants. Their aid includes providing case management support, advising workers about their rights related to wage theft and helping them understand their rights under federal law.
"They are victims of theft. They do get paid, but because they are undocumented, they are victims of crime as well," Badurina said.
Inflation and the lingering impact of COVID-19 have affected many Americans, but jornaleros have been particularly vulnerable.
"I'm not doing very well right now; I haven't found a job for about 3 months.” Mauro said. “There are days when I have it and others I don't. But here I am, between a rock and a hard place."
And the stigma that jornaleros take American jobs still persists.
Byron S., an undocumented jornalero from Guatemala who also asked to use his first name due to his documentation status, said they perform work that others are unwilling to do.
“We Hispanics build houses, do landscaping, and many other things,” Byron said. “Yes, we make money here, and that's because Americans pay us for our work. But ultimately, the hard work is done by us."
Badurina said jornaleros in Connecticut are recently coming from different parts of the world like Venezuela and Argentina.
“Sometimes we bring the attorney to talk to them so they know how to take care of themselves, how they could record where they are going to work and so on,” Badurina said. The attorney helps run their unpaid wages clinic.
She added that jornaleros are building friendships through faith and culture, and whether some like it or not, they are part of our community and see the future with hope.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the people Building One Community has served. Building One Community says they have served 15,000 immigrants in general not 15,000 day laborers.