Executive Director of El Centro Humanitario, a Denver-based group advocating the human rights of day laborers.
The city council of Aurora, Colorado, is considering two ordinances that would regulate how day laborers seek out work. The city is proposing to restrict the locations of offices set up to help the day laborers and limit how they gather to meet prospective employers. Last week, local tensions escalated when members of the anti-immigrant group the Minuteman Project held a daylong protest directly in front of a busy intersection where day laborers often gather. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: As we turn now from the environment, we turn to another national issue playing out locally here in Colorado, the issue of immigration. The city council of Aurora, Colorado, is considering two ordinances that would regulate how day laborers seek out work. The city is proposing to restrict the locations of offices set up to help the day laborers and limit how they gather to meet prospective employers. Supporters say the measure is needed in part to protect public safety, but day laborer proponents say the measure will increase racial profiling and violate workers’ rights to free assembly.
This past weekend, local tensions escalated when members of the anti-immigrant group the Minuteman Project held a daylong protest directly in front of a busy intersection where day laborers often gather.
Joining me here in Denver is Minsun Ji. She’s executive director of El Centro Humanitario, a local advocacy group for day laborer rights.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
MINSUN JI: Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what is happening.
MINSUN JI: Well, Centro Humanitario is a Denver state labor organization that defends the right of immigrant day laborers. We’ve been going out to the corner of Aurora on Colfax and Dayton, where workers congregate to seek employment, to see what was going on for probably the past two years. And we’ve been going there to organize the workers to talk about why it is important for them to have the right to be there. And we’ve been actually working with city officials to talk about the importance of creating a gathering place. That is also happening in the Denver area, because Denver has a safe and dignified gathering place. So it’s been kind of an ongoing process that we’ve been trying to educate the public about why these people also have the right to the indoor gathering place, because right now they are outside, and bad employers will come and pick them up, and they will never pay. So there are lots, lots of worker abuse going on. Unfortunately, despite all the efforts that was made to open a gathering place near the street corner, the city of Aurora doesn’t want us to be located in their area. So —-
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what happened this weekend with the Minutemen, who they are, what they did.
MINSUN JI: Minutemen have been targeting day laborers from its beginning. So, right now the Minutemen will come to the corners and harass the workers with signs. A lot of Minutemen will say, "Workers, you are illegal. Therefore you have to go back to your country. You take our job." Last Friday we did have sort of a confrontations with Minutemen. We didn’t know about their protest, but it was very big shocking for us to see about twenty Minutemen who showed up on the corner of Colfax and Dayton to protest against immigrant day laborers. And it’s very unfortunate, because the message that we like to tell the community is that the day laborers are peacefully assembling on the corners to seek employment so that they can support families. However, Minutemen are not understanding point, so there was tensions between workers and Minutemen last week.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain where the day laborers come from and the kind of work that they’re doing.
MINSUN JI: Most day laborers are coming from Mexico and other Central America. And they are here to seek employment, because their economy in their countries are so bad that they are forced to come to the United States to look for jobs. A lot of workers are working in constructions. They do landscaping, painting and roofing and any and all labors that, you know, individuals or small contractors need help from. So, about probably, you know, twenty to forty workers per day will go out to work on a daily basis.
AMY GOODMAN: And the kind of work they’re doing?
MINSUN JI: They are working on constructions, like carpentry, paintings and roofing and landscaping.
AMY GOODMAN: And is there a difference between, for example, the city of Aurora deals with day laborers and the city here of Denver?
MINSUN JI: Well, we have a site in the gathering site in the Denver area, so to approach the city officials in Aurora has been really, really big challenge for us, because when we opened the center here in Denver, we received huge support from the city officials. For example, in 2007, we also received a proclamation from the city of Denver for serving low-wage day laborers. But in Aurora, we are getting a very cold response from the city of Aurora, because -— one of the examples is that they are, you know, already introducing a city ordinance to block employers from coming to the corners to get workers. They are going to illegalize that activity on the corner by increasing the police. So that has been very hostile. I think it really creates tensions, because what we like to do is to open a gathering place where workers can get work and also feel safe. However, that kind of attempt so far has not been understood by the city officials.
AMY GOODMAN: And are there any plans for changes on how day laborers are dealt with coming up to the Democratic convention, which is going to be happening here at the end of August?
MINSUN JI: Yeah, we’ve been part of the planning to organize an immigrant rally, and definitely the city of Aurora is going to be one big issue, because it could be a very local issue, but it’s happening in so many cities, with regard to regulating immigration issue. For example, in 2005, probably 175 legislations were proposed related to the immigration. As of 2007, 2008, over 1,500 immigration legislations are proposed by so many different local cities. So it looks like a local issue, yet, because of the fact that federal government doesn’t create any reform at the federal level, a lot of cities are approaching at the local level.
AMY GOODMAN: What’s the reform you would like to see?
MINSUN JI: Well, definitely we would like to seek to create a comprehensive reform that will actually humanize the immigrants and also will give path for the workers to be citizens and who can also live here with their families. But all those kind of in a more humanitarian reform has not been introduced yet. So, during the DNC, we would like to actually call for more humanitarian immigration reform.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Minsun Ji is executive director of El Centro Humanitario, a Denver-based group advocating the human rights of day laborers.