Special Reports

A daily scramble to find work

The contractors never ask for documents. They just want the job done well and done fast.

That's fine with Sergio, 31, an illegal immigrant who is a day laborer when he can't find fieldwork. He has a reputation for working hard -- and at the Home Depot parking lot in southeast Fresno, where labor is bartered every day, that's what matters most.

"If the job's not being done well, then they'll just fire you," Sergio said in Spanish on an August morning as he scanned the parking lot dotted with other day laborers.

"I do a very good job because then word gets around that I work really hard. Then, out of everybody here, they point to me and say, 'OK, go' -- and they take you."

The Public Policy Institute of California estimates there are 40,000 day laborers in California and 80% are illegal immigrants. Still, that means only about 3% of illegal immigrant males in California are day laborers.

For Sergio, finding work is a matter of survival.

Last Friday, he made $70 helping install a fence. It was enough to feed him, his wife and three children for three days. But now it's Monday and he's broke.

The grape harvesting season is coming soon -- along with the promise of $200 or $300 a week. Until then, he'll have to find a way to scrape by. That means taking the bus here every day, hoping he'll get chosen for a job.

In Mexico, he said, "there was nothing to do" -- no work. So 10 years ago, he immigrated here illegally with his family. They share a home in west Fresno with another family.

Despite the hard times, life here is luxurious compared to Mexico, Sergio said. He makes enough money to feed his family. And his children benefit from a better education system.

"We don't want to go back to Mexico because we don't have anything there," Sergio said. "What's the point?"

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