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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Winter is an especially hard time for Annandale's day laborers

Trying to find work as a day laborer in Annandale is hard. The pay is low, the work is physically demanding, and it’s hard to find recourse when contractors don’t pay what they promised. It’s even more of a hardship in the winter, when people have to stand out in the cold and the jobs are few and far between.

We caught up with Pedro and Arturo waiting for jobs in front of the Safeway on Little River Turnpike on a cold December morning. Both of them agree there’s a lot less work now than when they came here from Guatemala a few years ago. With no need for yard work or outdoor home projects, the best one can hope for is snow shoveling or interior cleaning, says Pedro, whose specialty is painting. He says he’s been lucky to get a part-time job cleaning offices for two hours a day.

Arturo has done landscaping and moving and will do “any kind of work.” He worked only one day during the week we spoke. He was expecting to have a job the following day, but it would only pay about $60 for 10 hours of work. [This is the second report we’ve done on Annandale’s day laborers. The two workers interviewed this fall have left the area, one to California and the other back to Texas.]

Arturo says it’s very difficult to know how much work you’ll get. It could be five days a month or only one. Last summer, he was able to send $200 a month to his family; now it’s more like $50 a month. And even when they get jobs, they have no guarantees they will be paid. Pedro once spent two days on yard work but never received the $200 he was promised. And Arturo once put in five days of work for a contractor and only got paid for one day. The Northern Virginia office of the Legal Aid Justice Center goes to bat for the day laborers when they have disputes with contractors.

Both Pedro and Arturo are from the same neighborhood in the town of La Florida in Guatemala but they didn’t know each until they met here in Annandale. Pedro said he came to Annandale because a friend told him, “This place is good to get a job.” Arturo settled in North Carolina after leaving Guatemala four years ago, but says, “I was very alone and friends invited me to come here.”

Arturo says it is “very difficult” to be away from his family, especially during the holidays. He has four children, ages 7 to 33 plus a 13-month-old granddaughter he’s never seen. He would like to go home as soon as he can pay off his debt. Pedro has three children ages 15 to 24 and thinks he might have to stay here another two years.

“I never thought it would be like this,” Arturo says of his life as a day laborer. “Friends used to say how great it was, but when I came I found it was not true.” No one talks about the hard work you have to do to survive here, he says, and “no one ever talks about how dangerous it was” crossing the borders into Mexico and into the United States.

It took Arturo 18 days to get through the desert, and he came close to being shot by a “mafia group” that was trying to extort money from his group as they tried to enter the United States. Luckily for him, another larger group of immigrants diverted the gang’s attention and Arturo made it safely across the border.

So far, Arturo has only been able to repay 60 percent of the $7,000 he owes to the “coyote” who guided his group into the country four years ago, even though he says, “I never spend any money on myself.” He had to mortgage his home in Guatemala to raise that money.

Pedro has already paid his $3,000 debt for his trip. He got through Mexico without problems but was detained at the border by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers (ICE) for one day, then sent back to Mexico. The second time he tried to cross the border, he got through.

Both Pedro and Arturo live in Annandale, with about 10 people packed into one small apartment. “That’s been a big adjustment,” Pedro says, as he and many of his roommates are used to having plenty of living space back home. Arturo took some English language classes in North Carolina. Pedro is trying to learn English on his own, mostly from TV, and is very diligent about writing down new words in a small notebook.

When asked what they want the other residents of Annandale to know about them, Arturo said, “I want to tell people we are here to work. We are not criminals. We are people with families. We are not here to mess with anybody.”


  1. It would be nice to read an article about someone who is here legally in our country and out of work. There are plenty of US citizens facing hard times. Glad I do not live next to the apartment with 10 people packed into it. Of course, that is also illegal. Perhaps the stories will get back home that it isn't so great here in the US and halt the law-breaking of coming to the US illegally.

  2. Lets be clear, not all of the DLs are humble or grateful. I was moving out of my Condo last month and hired two Guatemalans to assist me. I told them I would pay $10 per hour and before we had gotten 100 feet they were telling me they needed more. They would not do as asked and refused to complete the agreed upon 3 hours. When I pulled out my wallet one of them tried to grab it while the other grabbed my shoulder. I gave them $20 each for two hours but they said they would not get out of the car unless I gave them $50 each. It took my souvenir Orioles mini baseball bat to change their minds. I offered fair pay but they basically tried to extort me. More than a few of these poor immigrants are simply just criminals, here illegally and looking to take advantage of any situation.
    Be careful who you hire there in Annandale.

  3. I am sure these illegal aliens are fine people. I see them in church and they seem as reverent as the next person. They work hard, when someone illegally hires them, and they are good at sending dollars back to Central and South America for family. But they violated the law to get here, they violate the law when they work without paying taxes, they violate the law by driving without permits, they violate the law shoplifting (I see them). I feel badly they are hard-pressed for basics and all, so I invite them to go home and make something out of their own country and be with their family. If they want to come back, to do it legally, at least then they will have a chance to have legally, the privileges they now are stealing.

  4. The illegals in Annandale (and everywhere else) should be rounded up and deported. Automatic machine guns should be deployed on the southern border to kill anyone who attempts to intrude. If the border were a guaranteed death zone, the illegal alien invasion would stop.

  5. Im supposed to feel sorry for people who come here illegally, flaunt federal, state, and local laws, and sop off resources intended for my fellow citizens I provide by paying the outrageous taxes I already pay at three levels?

    Here is an idea, maybe the lesson here is we should make it hard for them here so they leave on their own instead on us wasting government resources to round them up and pay to ship them back. Don’t welcome these people here - they break our laws and slap us in the face by flaunting it everyday looking for work that is both illegal to provide OR take advantage of.

  6. Not sure what to say to the other posters. On my Moms side, my relatives came over illegally at Bass Landing in Virginia in the late 1600s. On my dads side they lived in Mexico until their land was stolen from them and the area then became Texas. Get over it.

  7. I find your attempt to legitimize these illegal aliens in Annandale. I have spoken to many business owners along 236 near Hummer and can tell you that their presence is not appreciated nor wanted. On more than one occasion I have had trouble entering the gas station or 7 11 there do to the crowds. On other occasions I have witnessed public drunkenness and gambling beside the 7 11. My wife is from South America. Her family came here legally, spent years working hard to pay their dues, immigration fees, and doing endless paperwork. In my humble opinion these "poor day laborers" are nothing more than blight on the community. It would serve the community well if ICE would just start rounding them up and deporting them like Eisenhower did in the 50's.

  8. Day Laborers do the work at lot of people think is beneath them. I will hire day workers anytime. Some of these people were professionals in their own countries. You all seem to forget our forefathers and some of your relatives came here as immigrants with no green cards. These people want the same things, a safe, free life. Don't be so selfish, they aren't taking anything from you, they're giving and way cheaply too.

  9. Downtown Annandale during the daytime is an absolute disgrace with day laborers loitering all along Little River Tpke. from the 7-11 east past the Safeway shopping center. No one seems to care that they're there. If the police are not going to do anything, why not build a center for them to congregate so legal residents can patronize local businesses without fear of running someone over or being approached by one asking for work. Clean up downtown Annandale now, it's turning into a slum.