Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Disorder at Day Laborer Sites

Guide No. 44 (2007)

by Rob T. Guerette

The Problem of Disorder at Day Laborer Sites

This guide addresses the problem of disorder at day laborer sites. It begins by describing the problem and reviewing factors that increase the risks of it. It then identifies a series of questions to help you analyze your local problem. Finally, it reviews responses to the problem and what is known about them from evaluative research and practice.

Disorder at day laborer sites is but one aspect of the larger set of problems related to both public disorder and to illegal immigration. This guide is limited to addressing the particular harms created by disorder at day laborer sites. Related problemseach of which require separate analysisnot directly addressed in this guide include:

  • exploitation of day laborers by contractors who fail to pay or pay less than the agreed-to wage,
  • victimization of day laborers by angry citizens,
  • illegal immigration and human smuggling rings,
  • associations with groups engaged in trafficking women for prostitution, and
  • links with other forms of organized crime, such as drug smuggling.

General Description of the Problem

Views related to day laborers vary considerably. Some people view them as valuable resources providing cheap labor that others will not do. Others see them as illegal immigrants and transients who take jobs, commit crimes, and cause community disorder. How communities view day laborers largely depends on how intrusive day-laboring activities become on citizens daily lives. Most communities will be ambivalent to day laborers until their presence leads to problems, some criminal and some not.[1] Community attitudes against day laborers may be rooted in anti-immigration views more generally. How the community views day laborers and illegal immigrants, whether they are critical or sympathetic, will affect how any particular community addresses problems at day laborer sites. This guide does not adopt any particular judgment about illegal immigrants rather it is intended to objectively inform you about the effectiveness and consequences of various approaches to managing problematic behavior at day laboring locations.

Day laborers are those who congregate in public places seeking manual-labor jobs such as construction, gardening, landscaping, and farming. These laborers work daily for predetermined wages. The amount of money laborers earn varies from market to market and time of year. Day laborer sites tend to be concentrated where there is a proliferation of construction, manufacturing, farming, and other industries dependent on large numbers of relatively unskilled manual laborers.

Day laborers are sometimes referred to as jornaleros or esquineros, the former meaning day worker and the latter meaning street-corner worker.

Researchers often distinguish between informal and formal day labor markets. Formal day laborers are those who work for temp agencies, contracted out on a daily or extended basis. This guide focuses on informal day laborers.

Harms Caused by Disorder at Day Laborer Sites

Potential problems associated with day laborer sites center mostly on where laborers congregate while waiting for work, and not at the workplaces themselves. The following are among the many reasons police need to be concerned with day laborer activity.

Public Disorder

  • The presence of large numbers of laborers and contractors often creates parking and traffic problems.
  • The constant congregation of laborers in the same place for many hours creates loitering problems.
  • Laborers often leave discarded bottles, food wrappers, and other litter at day laborer sites.
  • Laborers may vandalize area property or deface property with graffiti.
  • Laborers waiting all day for work may urinate in public.
  • Injuries among laborers related to swarming may occur. Swarming often occurs when there are many more laborers than the contractor needs. Injuries sometimes occur when many laborers swarm around a contractors vehicle, hoping to be selected for a job.
  • Laborers congregating on sidewalks may harass pedestrians.


  • Simple and aggravated assaults may take place at day laborer sites.
  • Laborers may be routinely robbed.[2]
  • Laborers may drink and sell or use illicit drugs in public.

Economic Concerns

  • Immigrant day laborers may make it more difficult for community residents to find work.
  • Increased contractors reliance on day laborers may undercut salary levels and employee benefits for full-time workers.

Spillover Effects

  • The presence of troublesome day laborer sites may incite citizens frustration and disdain for immigrants.
  • Disorderly day laborer sites could lead to increased fear of crime among community members.
  • Uncontrolled day laborer sites in residential areas may affect property values.
A local resident protests at a day laborer site

A local resident protests at a day laborer site.

Day Laborer and Smuggling Links

As most day laborers are illegal immigrants, most have been assisted by smugglers. Research indicates that smugglers help nine out of 10 immigrants entering the United States across the Mexican border.[3] Many immigrants use smugglers to help them find places to live in the United States, and become obligated to them if they cannot afford to pay them up front. Thus, some immigrants must work to repay smugglers for arranging their transport and housing. It is common for many immigrants to live in one house or apartment that is managed by the smuggler or someone with ties to the smuggler. These residences may be near day labor sites.