NDLON in the News

Subheading phrase goes here.

Promised Land

The stigma of ‘illegal aliens’ makes migrant workers targeted prey

New Orleans City Business
July 20, check 2009
by Richard A. Webster

Hours after Councilman Arnie Fielkow proposed an ordinance that would protect Hispanic day laborers by criminalizing wage theft, WRNO 99.5 FM talk radio show host John Osterlind took to the airwaves to express his disappointment.

“My head is spinning and I’m an Arnie Fielkow fan,” Osterlind said on his June 30 broadcast. “Do we want laws on the books to protect illegal immigrants?”

Osterlind opened the phone lines and the first caller, Marcus, lashed out at Fielkow’s proposal.

“Most of the (day laborers), if you get real close to them, you smell liquor,” Marcus said. “They’re addicts, alcoholics and most are illegal aliens.”

The next caller, Jalinda from Thibodeaux, took Marcus to task.

“Just because they’re here illegally doesn’t mean we have the right to treat them like dogs. If you make a verbal agreement pay the guys,” she said.

Fielkow’s proposed wage theft ordinance has ignited debate beyond the airwaves and revealed long-simmering tensions regarding the status of the thousands of Hispanic workers who have arrived in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.

“You can’t say enough about what (the day laborers) have done for the city,” Osterlind said when interviewed last week. “But like many said, they’re here illegally, end of story, case closed. Either tell everyone who is here illegally to stay, which I’m not a proponent of, or enact our immigration laws. But until the federal government does something to fix this problem we’ll keep going around and around in circles.”

It is widely known that there are thousands of undocumented immigrants working in New Orleans and that New Orleans companies employ them in droves. But little is done about it. The federal government hasn’t dispatched teams of immigration agents to round them up and rarely punishes the companies employing them, said Larry Bagneris, executive director of the city’s Human Relations Commission.

And there is little incentive for the city to take action since the migrant workers have played such a vital role in New Orleans’ recovery.

But this symbiotic relationship has created a new set of legal problems such as wage theft that the city is now forced to deal with.

Fielkow has taken the lead on the issue and as a result people uneasy with the presence of illegal immigrants have turned on him.

“Fielkow is a straight up guy but I turn my back on him for pushing this crap down the people’s throats,” said John in Slidell, a caller to the Osterlind show.

Fielkow defends his proposed ordinance as the right thing to do for a group of people who have meant so much to the rebuilding effort.

“It’s very hypocritical to ask them to help with rebuilding and then turn a blind eye when they’re getting ripped off,” Fielkow said. “I would appeal to people’s basic civil rights and humanity that … we should at least afford them some level of protection.”

Under state and federal law, wage theft is a civil offense with disputes often settled in small claims court. Fielkow’s proposal would make it a criminal offense allowing police to arrest alleged offenders.


Struggle to accept

After Hurricane Katrina an estimated 90,000 Hispanics came to New Orleans, according to the Catholic Diocese’s Hispanic Apostolate.

Since their arrival, they have been hailed as an indispensable part of the recovery. They did the jobs no one else wanted to do — plunging into flooded houses festering with mold and rotting food, clearing out debris and gutting the toxic insides, working long hours in brutal conditions for the promise of cash to send home to their struggling families.

But for all of the accolades thrown their way, many people have struggled to accept the new foreign population, Bagneris said. And they have not been afraid to express their feelings.

Since the storm, Bagneris has worked undercover among day laborers, standing in the parking lots of The Home Depot and Lowe’s and listened as drivers in passing cars scream “wetback” and “go back to Mexico.” Some have even thrown bricks through the windows of the workers’ trucks.

The abuse the migrant workers weathered had gotten so bad that Bagneris suggested after Hurricane Ike that they go to Galveston, Texas, where the Hispanic culture is more prevalent and he thought they would be treated better.

“They refused. They said it’s worse in Houston and Galveston in terms of how they’re treated and abused. I was floored considering what they go through here,” Bagneris said.

During one undercover assignment at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Claiborne Avenue, several workers pointed out a man they claimed had cheated them out of thousands of dollars in promised wages. When Bagneris approached the accused individual, the man, thinking Bagneris was just another day laborer, hurled racial epithets at him.

“I told him I worked for the mayor’s office and he said, ‘Don’t you have more important problems to deal with than protecting these people, like all the murders?’ I told him, ‘This is important. You’re murdering these people’s spirits.’”


Blacks vs. Hispanics

Bagneris said the biggest shock was that the man accused of ripping off the workers was black.

Luz Molina, a Loyola University law professor who specializes in wage theft cases, said she too has been surprised to hear stories of blacks abusing the migrant workers.

“If anyone would be sympathetic to their situation you would think it would be African Americans,” she said.

The antipathy of blacks towards day laborers is based on a combination of economics and race since many of the post-hurricane construction jobs have gone to Hispanics, said Ted Quant, director of Loyola’s Twomey Center of Peace Through Justice.

“If you’re a black worker and look at construction on a housing project you used to live in and don’t see anybody working on it that looks like you, it breeds resentment,” Quant said. “We saw the same thing happen after Vietnamese community moved here after the fall of Saigon. People were screaming they were going to take all the jobs. This is a repeat 40 years later with a different group of people. But they’re a different color and speak a different language, so it’s easier to hate them.”

Fielkow’s proposal to pass an ordinance to protect Hispanic workers is like digging the knife into the wounded pride of local workers who feel the new population of immigrants has stolen their jobs, Quant said.

“The sad thing is that these are hardworking people who, when you get to know them, are dealing with same issues we are: How do I feed family, get my kids educated, make sure my mother and father can get medical care?” Quant said.

But they are different because they are deemed “illegal aliens,” Molina said. The term is dehumanizing and justifies all manner of abuse — wage theft, robbery, racial slurs, beatings — because they are illegal aliens, Molina said.

A recent survey of 300 Hispanic day laborers indicated they had worked a total of 12,000 unpaid days and lost a total of $400,000 in wages, according to the New Orleans Congress of Day Laborers.

Molina represents a man who was cheated out of $60,000 for three months of work. He is now living in his car with little hope for the future.

Another case involves a 17-year-old boy owed more than $3,000. When he asked his boss for the money, the employer told him to “get out of my face,” Molina said. The contractor then called the police, told them the 17-year-old threatened his family and that he was in the country illegally.

The police arrested the boy and turned him over to immigration.

“One of the biggest shocks is how many homeowners have cheated these people,” Molina said. “They’ve rebuilt their houses on slave labor. But people think since they’re here undocumented, that they’re criminals and don’t deserve any respect as human beings.”

Even more surprising is that a significant number of contractors committing wage theft are Latino themselves, according to Catholic Charities.

Many of these Latino contractors come from countries where regulation is non-existent, Molina said. They are simply opportunistic people looking to make some fast cash and don’t understand that what they can get away with in their home country, they can’t get away with in the United States, Molina said.

“It’s sad because who is in better position to know how vulnerable these workers are than another Latino who he himself may have taken a similar road,” Molina said. “But all these people, no matter their race, are the same. They’re individuals predisposed to abusing others and making a quick buck.”

Unfortunately, the majority of the public wrath falls on the heads of the undocumented workers and not the corrupt contractors, she said.

“And what’s their crime? That they wanted to support their families in their home country? And that’s an evil thing?”


Illegal business

It’s not an evil thing, but it is an illegal thing, said Wes Wyman, president of the New Orleans Homebuilders Association.

Wyman said he opposes Fielkow’s wage theft ordinance because it provides protection to laborers who work for cash under the table and that gives an unfair advantage to businesses that want to avoid paying taxes, worker’s compensation and insurance.

Wyman also took issue with the prevailing public opinion that the day laborers have played an instrumental role in the rebuilding of New Orleans.

“The vast majority of these guys are no more than common laborers,” Wyman said. “They have no skill and do substandard work that will eventually have to be fixed if the homeowner ever wants to sell his house. It’s your contractors and subcontractors, the people who have been working in this city for years, who have rebuilt New Orleans. Where people get this picture that these guys rebuilt the city I have no idea.”

Callers to the Osterlind show who opposed Fielkow’s ordinance echoed Wyman’s sentiment, that their opposition is based on the rule of law and not race.

“It’s a strange thing to listen to people who broke the law to get here now want protection of the law,” said Michael in Baton Rouge. “Nothing would be better to the situation than to do nothing (about wage theft). Word would get around that you get stiffed here then they wouldn’t come here.”

Federal and state laws protect undocumented immigrants employed by U.S. companies despite their illegal status, Molina said. Contractors have no more a right to steal from them than they do American workers, and the undocumented immigrants have just as much a right as legal citizens to pursue justice in the courts, she said.

Fielkow and his opponents agree on one important point: If companies followed the law and refused to hire illegal immigrants, the problem wouldn’t exist.

But until they are properly punished, Quant said the most unscrupulous will continue to hire and rob undocumented workers because they live by a simple credo: Greed is a virtue and compassion is a vice.

“What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine too if I’m slick enough to get it,” Quant said, describing the disreputable contractor’s mindset. “And if we can drive people’s wages down so I can make more profit, all the better for me.

“But there’s a social consequence to that in crime, poverty and disease,” Quant said.

“It just doesn’t make sense for us to be defending people stealing the wages of others who work hard. It violates every value we have as a people.”



Day Laborers on Long Island, Left at the Curb

Published: May 10, seek 2009

Just south of the commuter train tracks in Huntington Station, Long Island, a weary pileup of streets forms a little district of desperation.

Down along New York Avenue, Fairground Avenue and Depot Road, men in groups of a half-dozen or more linger by a gas station, a bar, a tire-repair . They are Latino day laborers, waiting for trucks to pull up with jobs to do.

When times were good, there was lots of work. But hardly anyone is building or renovating now, and the men go days and weeks without being hired. Wages have plummeted, and when a job is done, the men are often paid nothing and told to get lost. The sidewalks they have claimed are small outposts of the national pain created by the burst housing bubble.

The men have no safety net: no unemployment insurance, no food stamps. They are nobody’s responsibility, and nobody pays them much heed, except those who find them distasteful or frightening and have pushed for laws to shoo them out of sight. It’s like this across Long Island. In Huntington Station, jobless laborers sleep in the woods. They do the same out east, in lush Southampton, and in points between.

The presence of an underclass stranded by a lack of work, with no place to exchange sweat and skill for a day’s pay, is an affront to decency in a place that enshrines the work ethic and owes these men so much. In this kingdom of home and lawn maintenance, they blew leaves, trimmed hedges and grass, spread mulch, painted houses and patched drywall. There is little demand for the informal labor market now, and the men who made it work have been left at the curb.

Long Island owes them gratitude, but — gratitude? Are you kidding? The men are lucky they aren’t being harassed and racially profiled by the police, swept into federal custody, as local authorities are doing to Latino immigrants across the country.

Suffolk County has begun a police crackdown on gangs and s in Huntington Station, which are a problem there, as in any poor community. But outreach to day laborers — to help them assimilate, find jobs or housing, or perhaps go home — is harder to find.

There is a fenced lot on Depot Road with benches and portable toilets — a day laborer hiring site supported by Huntington Town. It is not working as well as planned. To gain the tiniest advantage, the men have dispersed ever farther from the site. Even on a bright spring morning, all those men standing around give the neighborhood a feel of disarray and aimlessness.

The same could be said of government efforts to deal with day laborers, which boil down to a question: Do we welcome you, or try to push you off the streets, and the economic ladder?

In places like Huntington and Southampton, some residents are attacking the problem with level heads and kind hearts. Volunteers in Huntington house homeless laborers in churches every night, all winter. Sister Margaret Smyth, a Roman Catholic nun who has spent years serving the poor on the East End of Long Island, works with Southampton’s day laborers, fighting homelessness, hunger and wage theft.

“We’re getting more and more cases of workers not just underpaid, but just plain not being paid at all,” Sister Margaret said. “We take them to court. Poor Southampton court system, I must have 40 cases with them.”

When she’s not being her own nonprofit legal service agency, Sister Margaret is a travel agent, raising money to immigrants air fare home.

“I’ve never bought so many tickets,” she said. “I just bought four in the last week and a half. We’ve gotten very good at it. I joined a club on the Internet, and with Spirit Airlines, I can get a one-way ticket to Guatemala for $120.”

The immigration problem is far bigger than Sister Margaret. It’s a federal failure that has fallen into the laps of local governments. But reform is finally showing signs of moving forward in Washington, and local government would be smart to help it along, starting now.

It could step in to magnify Sister Margaret’s labors. It could support nonprofit agencies and help the men to organize themselves, to run hiring sites across the Island. It could fight the crimes of wage theft and harassment. It could give the men soup. It could abandon reflexive hostility to day laborers as the equivalent of a pest-control problem.

It could act decently, without starting a huge fight over immigration policy.

“We can always pray for a miracle,” Sister Margaret said.



Hate brews in Maricopa ~ Dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres

Huffington Post
May 11, 2009
By Valeria Fernández – Phoenix, Arizona

Disturbing video of armed neo-Nazi supporters of Sheriff Joe Arpaio trying to incite violence during a peaceful protest against alleged brutality in Maricopa County jails has human and civil-rights groups worried.
Click here to view the embedded video. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), treat  National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) andAssociation of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) criticized Arpaio for not condemning the actions of his supporters and instead getting his picture taken with the neo-Nazis.

On Saturday, May 2nd close to 3,000 people marched for six miles to protest the Sheriff’s alleged abuses of civil rights inside and outside his jails as part of his crackdown on illegal immigration.

The march was inspired by the cases of several women who reported intimidation and brutality by jail guards. Hundreds of prisoners reportedly started a hunger strike to denounce jail conditions and .

The protest ended outside the Durango jail complex where the marchers were met with a handful of neo-Nazis stepping on the Mexican flag, doing the Nazi “Sieg Heil” salute and yelling racial slurs. Some observers said that the heavy presence of Phoenix police, who are not controlled by theSheriff’s Office, was what kept violence from erupting.

Phoenix, the seat of Maricopa County and capital of Arizona, is the fifth largest city in the United States with a population of over 1,500,000. Maricopa County’s population is roughly 3,900,000.

Photos and videos circulating on white-supremacist web pages show the Sheriff getting his picture taken with them. J.T Ready, one of the neo-Nazis that stepped on the Mexican flag compared the actions of Arpaio to those of Adolph Hitler, saying the latter was his “hero.”

“The hate and bigotry of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his supporters must be exposed, confronted and overcome”, said Pablo Alvarado, director of NDLON. “What is happening in Maricopa County is nothing short of a human rights crisis on United States soil”.

During a press conference outside the jail complex on Saturday, Arpaio complained that the protesters caused him to have to put extra security in the jail. When asked whether or not he was concerned about attracting support from neo-Nazis, he dodged the question, replying: “I arrest anyone who breaks the law.”

Later his office issued a statement saying that he had no control over who shows up at these protests.

“Any time that white supremacists groups and other groups like that support Sheriff Arpaio, it speaks for itself,” said Bertha Lewis, executive director of ACORN. “They know one of their own. In fact, he actually is very proud to be associated with the KKK,” [Ku Klux Klan] she added.

Lewis comment was in reference to a remark made by Arpaio on CNN’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight” in 2007. He was asked to respond to critics who question his tactics in enforcing illegal immigration. “Well, you know, they call you KKK. They did me. I think it’s an honor, right? It means we’re doing something,” Arpaio said, according to transcripts of the show.

The local Anti-Defamation League has warned that the current negative atmosphere against undocumented immigrants in the state, fed by local politicians like Arpaio, is attracting hate groups to Arizona.

In the past, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon criticized Arpaio for conducting immigration raids at the request of individuals related to white supremacist groups.

Other videos of the neo-Nazis:

The Association: Joe Arpaio and Neo-Nazi friendship exposed!
(This video ends with footage of Arpaio talking with “white nationalist” demonstrators.)

Mexican vs Neo-nazi white minutemen Sheriff Arpaio supporters
(Filmed by A.J Alexander)



NDLON Statement on Exchange Between Arpaio and Neo-Nazi Supporters and Planned Expansion of “Posse” Program


(Phoenix, Arizona)  On Saturday, order an estimated 4,000 people marched peacefully for six miles from the Maricopa County Sheriff Office to its “tent city” jail to draw attention to an emerging civil rights crisis in the nation’s fifth largest city.  The march was nearly disrupted by the actions of several, well-known white supremacists who hurled racial epithets in an effort- as the Anti-Defamation League noted– to incite violence.

Alarming video footage and photos on white supremacist web pages have surfaced documenting an amicable exchange between Joe Arpaio and his neo-nazi supporters. The videos show Arpaio taking photos with white supremacists and passing along information about the marchers’ progress.

In the past, Arpaio has been criticized by Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon for directing law enforcement resources at the request of white supremacists.   Just yesterday, the Sheriff issued a press release announcing the expansion of his “Posse Program” which deputizes and arms local vigilantes.

The following is a statement of Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network in response to recent events: 

“The hate and bigotry of Sheriff Arpaio and his supporters must be exposed, confronted, and overcome.  What is happening in Maricopa County is nothing short of a human rights crisis on United States soil.  

“It is particularly troubling that this is happening in John McCain’s backyard and in Janet Napolitano’s hometown, as both have taken a prominent role in efforts to reform immigration law.   Indeed, it is inexcusable that Janet Napolitano allows another hour to pass without terminating the 287(g) contract between her office and Joe Arpaio. 

“Above all, we are concerned for the safety of migrants, Latinos, and those who speak out in Arizona.   Arpaio has shown a propensity to retaliate against his opponents, and he has now demonstrated a willingness to encourage the same dangerous, right-wing militias Janet Napolitano warned the country about last week.  

“On behalf of our 41 member organizations, we call upon the White House to swiftly intervene in order to restore the rule of law and to ensure community safety in Maricopa County.” 

Click here to view the embedded video.


National Day Laborer Organizing Network
Contact: Yadira Hernandez (707) 318 2771
for more information on this campaign: http://ndlon.org






Eddie Gonzalez (PEOC): (323) 422-8107

Suzanne Foster (PEOC): (310) 486-8499

Event Info

Date:          Tuesday, May 5, there 2009

Time:         10:00 AM Press Conference Begins, Memorial Ends at 12:00 PM

What:         Press Conference and Memorial Service to celebrate the memory of

day laborer leader Fernando Pedraza

Where:       Corner of Arrow Highway and Grove Ave in Rancho Cucamonga , CA 

Who:          Pedraza Day Laborers Coalition, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, the Claremont Colleges, Pomona Economic Opportunity Center (PEOC), National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), San Bernardino Community Service Center, Inc, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) 

( Rancho Cucamonga , CA ) – On Monday May 5th, at 10 AM at the corner of Arrow Highway and Grove Avenue in Rancho Cucamonga , day laborers and their allies celebrate the second anniversary memorial of day laborer organizer Fernando Pedraza by coming together to demonstrate community support for workers’ rights and dignity to the Rancho Cucamonga City Council.

“We are here to celebrate the life of Fernando. We will not let his memory die,” said Roberto Corona, Pastoral Associate of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. “Fernando Pedraza’s body may not be here, but his ideals and dreams continue in each one of the thousands of men and women gathering on corners across our nation.”

The press conference and memorial service coincide with the day that Fernando Pedraza died two years ago. On Cinco de Mayo, 2007, an unplanned demonstration by the Minutemen against day laborers on the corner of Arrow Highway and Grove Avenue in Rancho Cucamonga ended with the death of day laborer leader Jose Fernando Pedraza. With the realization that there be dignity and respect for the day laborer community, Pedraza stood by his fellow day laborers across from the group of vigilantes who screamed racial attacks against the workers.  Fifty-seven year old Pedraza was hit and killed by a tragic car accident as he defended his fellow workers at the corner where he waited on a daily basis for work.

Pedraza, a Mexican immigrant and a father of five daughters and grandfather of seven, was killed at 1 p.m. on May 5, 2007, when an SUV, after hitting a car in the intersection, rolled onto the sidewalk where day laborers were gathered.  The day laborers were only there at that time on that day because of the Minutemen protest against their right to look for work.

“Honoring the Memory of Jose Pedraza reminds us to remember the struggle against injustices of the day laborer community in Rancho Cucamonga and to continue to empower each other to stand up for their rights,” said Eddie Gonzalez, Rancho Cucamonga organizer for the PEOC and Pedraza Day Laborer Coalition member. 




Lou Dobbs Battles Al Sharpton and ACORN’s Bertha Lewis, Gets His Lunch Eaten

By Stephen Lemon
Phoenix New Times
Wednesday, Apr. 8 2009

Click here to view the embedded video.

I don’t know what CNN’s resident nativist Lou Dobbs thought he was doing when he invited the Rev. Al Sharpton and ACORN’s Bertha Lewis on his program yesterday. But suffice it to say that the bottle-blond senior citizen got owned on his own show by Lewis and Sharpton, help who were there to attack Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his racial profiling shenanigans under the federal 287(g) program.

The verbal bitch-slapping began from jump, with Lewis doing the slapping, and Dobbs being the, well, you know. Check this exerpt from the show’s transcript:

DOBBS: Let’s start. This is unusual and this investigation started with a call, Bertha, for an investigation by four Democratic senators — excuse me — Congressmen which looks on its face to be politicization of the U.S. Justice Department.

BERTHA LEWIS, CEO, ACORN: It didn’t start there. It started two years ago. Sheriff Arpaio has been doing his reign of terror for a very long time.

DOBBS: Did you just say reign of terror?

LEWIS: Absolutely, I mean that.


LEWIS: It’s been arresting people simply because of the color of their skin, or their language. You can’t tell whether someone is legal or illegal, you know. And he’s using 287-G so the outcry that had come up from citizens across Maricopa County forced these Democrats to at least take some action and the Department of Justice has him under investigation.

Click here to view the embedded video.

It continued on from there with Lewis and Sharpton ceding zero ground to Dobbs on the subject. I loved the part where Dobbs spat the blarney that ACORN is under investigation in 13 states.

DOBBS: Have you met [Arpaio]?

LEWIS: I’ve met him by his work. Our members in Arizona have been arrested time and time again; African-Americans who have been here for a long time.

DOBBS: What do you suppose would be said about ACORN, you’re being investigated in 13 states, for crying out loud.

LEWIS: Oh, I’m glad you brought that up. That’s not true. Check the facts. It’s not true. You can get on the phone right now, call the Department of Justice.

DOBBS: I didn’t say anything about the Justice Department.

LEWIS: ACORN is not being investigated anywhere in any state. You don’t have your facts correct. If you’re talking about people being prosecuted individuals, we are assisting in their prosecution so ACORN is not under investigation and has not been.

We asked the Justice Department in October, they confirmed it again and again, and you know what? Give them a call.

DOBBS: We will. We’ll do it. And I certainly will and I assure you it will be early tomorrow morning. How’s that?

LEWIS: That’s good.

Sharpton was excellent as well, but a bit muted by comparison with Lewis. Still, I’d like to see either Lewis or Sharpton on the same show as Arpaio. The old man wouldn’t know what hit him.

Dennis Gilman’s posted the Televised donnybrook on YouTube, with his own running commentary on Dobbs’ various inaccuracies. (Keep your eyes on the scrolling headlines below the talking heads.) It’s must-viewing for all Arpaio-watchers, con and pro.