This is the final entry in a series of eight blog entries about the work the Institute for Immigration Research is doing with the Centreville Labor Resource Center (CLRC) to develop an in-depth picture of immigrant day laborers in the United States. In Post 1 we looked at the services the day laborers offer at the Centreville Labor Resource Center. In Post 2, we shared the motivations that propel Guatemalan day laborers to migrate to the US. In Posts 3, 4 and 5 we discussed the factors complicating the day laborers’ settlement in Northern VA, and especially highlighted the importance of developing English language skills. In the most recent posts, Posts 6 and Post 7, we got a glimpse of the training options and implications of different types of social capital for day laborers. In all, we attempted to review a broad range of issues and implications for these workers. Hopfully, this sheds light on the lives of people working day-by-day to make a living in our community.
In the early stages of this research project, we hypothesized that all of the day laborers were here with the intent to stay permanently, which is often the case for many immigrants. Immigrants are people who move to a new country with the intention of making that place their home. With that assumption in mind, we also hypothesized that their integration would progress over a long time. Because of this, we hypothesized that the barriers to integration would prevent these workers from becoming part of a community, and also prevent the integration of their families as well. Factors leading to successful integration in the US can be measured in many ways, including ability to speak English, socioeconomic achievement, engagement in politics, where these migrants live, and the degree to which they interact in their new communities (Waters and Jiménez 2005). The lack of any of these factors could specifically have an impact on the integration of the day laborers’ children.
When we started our interviews, we quickly learned the day laborers’ family situations were very different from our initial presumption. All of the married day laborers arrived to the U.S. without their wives and children and had no plans to have their families join them in the United States. The second surprise came when we learned that many of the day laborers plan to return to their home countries within the next year or two. However, a few of the day laborers have been here much longer than they expected, some of whom have lived in the US nine years. However, this does not necessarily signify permanent establishment here.
This gives us an impression of the different ways the day laborers imagine the prospect of becoming a permanent resident of the US. Each of the day laborers were asked whether they plan to stay in the U.S. permanently and here are some of the responses:
~ “This year I would like to return home to my family. I do not want to stay here anymore.”
~ “I would like to return to Guatemala in about 2 years.”
~ “I would like to go back to Guatemala. I don’t have any family here and I would like to go back to live with my family. I would like to save up money so that I can go back and study.”
~ “I’m really not planning on moving back any time soon. It all depends on the economy and job availability. I’m okay here.”
With this new knowledge, our emphasis on learning about long-term integration changed to a study of short-term, highly contextualized research on the integration of these day laborers into their host communities. We began to look at additional questions surrounding vocational training, English lessons, and other factors they identified as having a direct impact on their immediate employability.
Each aspect of the lives of the day laborers helps us understand the context in which they live and work each day. Each day laborer has a range of experiences here in the US and the variety of those experiences colors their wish to return home or bring their family here. Some of the most difficult parts of their experiences involve how they are treated as members of the workforce. There are many examples of predatory working conditions and wage theft, which the CRLC has been able to successfully avoid. The day laborers worry about violence and crime in their home country, yet they are continuously motivated to stay and work to better their family’s economic position. The competition they see in peers is unlike anything they might have experienced back home; they have difficulty with transportation, difficulty communicating, and often find they have skills to do work, but not certifications. This is all balanced by examples of professional social networks, English language training courses with a growing Spanish speaking community, as well as some peer training efforts for skills on the job. The most important aspect of these experiences is that the host community can make all the difference, and in the case of Centreville, it does.
So we now know that the day laborers are not all here to pursue The American Dream, instead, their dream appears to be a story of migration which ends in their home country with their families. There are multiple reasons the day laborers do not remain in the US on a permanent basis. One major reason is the lack of available legal permanent status. We asked some of the married day laborers “If you had the legal possibility to bring your family to the States, would you?” One day laborer answered: “I wouldn’t like my family to have the social life I have here, so I wouldn’t bring them here. I would still choose to return.” Another answered: “I would definitely live much better here as it is safer. If I had the opportunity, no matter what, I would live here, because crime rates are so high in Guatemala.” This variation in preference underscores the importance of integration for these migrants. Without a feeling of integration, they may never see the US as home, even if they are working here many years.
With the insights gained and lessons learned from these first twelve interviews, the Institute for Immigration Research is looking to broaden the scope of the Day Laborer Project by returning to the in-depth interviews of the twelve interviewees and asking further questions to determine if their plans for the future have materialized. Furthermore, we intend to increase the number of day laborer interviews to broaden our understanding on all the issues facing migrant and immigrant workers in this area.
If this research has interested you, we will be presenting our results at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia on the 18th of February 2016. Click here for more details.
Waters, M. C., & Jiménez, T. R. (2005). Assessing immigrant assimilation: New empirical and theoretical challenges. Annual review of sociology, 105-125.