Austin’s Undocumented Day Laborers

Each day, dozens of undocumented men show up at the Home Depot at the intersection of Interstate 35 and Woodward Street in Austin, Texas. For years now, this store has become a commonplace where day laborers go in hopes of finding jobs.

While at least 30 to 40 men gather at the site each day, the number is significantly less than what it used to be prior to the inauguration of President Trump. As the political climate shifted and pieces of legislation, such as the anti-sanctuary cities bill, were introduced early on in the presidency, many undocumented workers began to fear the risk of deportation.

In 2016, the number of day laborers at the front and back entrances of the Home Depot were nearly doubled, according to KVUE. However, despite the fear, men continue to show up each day and hope for the best.

“We need to work hard for our families,” Dimas said in his native Spanish language. “If we only have one job, we won’t survive in this economy.”

Dimas is from San José, Costa Rica. His wife, Teresa, is from San Vicente, El Salvador. They met in El Salvador and together decided to immigrate to the U.S. to create a better future for their family which consists of three daughters and a grandson. They have lived in the U.S. for more than 25 years, 13 of which they have lived in Austin.

Despite the political climate and uncertainty,Dimas, takes nearly an hour-long bus ride to get to the Home Depot each day.

Teresa has two cleaning jobs, during the weekday she works in a middle school cafeteria and during the weekend in a senior citizen home. Their second to oldest daughter, Marcela, takes care of her younger sister and nephew after they get out of school and until her parents come home.

“As a father, well you want to be able to give your children some money so that they could buy something they’d like,”Dimas said. “But with the current economic situation, what you earn at your job is only enough for the bills, rent and sometimes a bit of groceries.”

According to the Workers Defense Project, 75,000 undocumented immigrants live in Travis County, 46,000 of which are employed.

José Luis is from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon in Mexico. His family, consisting of two daughters and ex-wife, reside in Mexico. He has not seen them in nearly 20 years and misses them dearly. However, he is thankful he is able to send money to his family to help them pay for rent and bills.

“One comes here because of the economic situation in Mexico,” José Luis said in his native Spanish language. “One comes to help the family there because the situation there is really difficult and well, what I send is helpful.”

José Luis is currently employed as a handyman by a man he met at the Home Depot. However, he says that his boss does not always have jobs for him so he regularly goes back to the Home Depot seeking employment a few times during the week.

José Luis has noted that the political and economic climate have changed since the election of President Trump. While he is fearful of the lack of documentation he has, he does not let it prevent him from seeking jobs regularly.

“I believe he is the first president putting this many laws against us,” José Luis said. “But there are some people who show kindness towards us despite it.”

Saul is from Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato in Mexico. He has lived in Austin for two years now and goes to the Home Depot nearly every day. He lives with his brother but the rest of their family is in Guanajuato.

Along with his family, he misses the freedom he had in Mexico. The freedom to drive, spend time outside and work without fear. He shared how the police have often gone to the Home Depot and have asked the day laborers to leave. They question them, take their pictures and give them a warning. He says that despite the fear they feel, they must keep going and work hard to survive.

“Here one is not really free,”Saul said in his native Spanish language. “Transportation is the worst challenge because well now we don’t even want to drive because of the fear they [the police] instill.”

Saul is strong in his Catholic faith and prays each day that he may return home safely and that things may change for the good of the world.

Undocumented day laborers perform many jobs. They work in construction, painting, landscaping, and more. They do “a little bit of everything” as the men all said. They work past their fears and go to the Home Depot almost every day in hopes of being offered a job. Along with the hopes for finding a job, the men also pray that the current political, economic and racial tension may get better.

“We must understand each other. We should see each other like brothers. I say that it does not matter where we are from,” Dimas said. “We should be more conscious because of humanity… we do not have to hate each other or see us in a bad way. We should be humble people.”


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