Hiring hall raises legal questions

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BARRIO LOGAN, Calif. — You usually see them outside Home Depots — day laborers standing and waiting to get picked up for work.

They’re often at the mercy of those who pick them up and are at many times the target of labor abuse.

“Sometimes they don’t pay you,” said Luis Rene Mazariegos, a day laborer who recently started going to a new hiring hall on Imperial Avenue in Barrio Logan.

“I make sure they get paid,” said Martha Blancarte, who heads the hiring hall that provides a safe place for workers to get picked up for jobs.

After getting hired, workers report to Blancarte whether the job went well and if they didn’t get paid.

“I have attorneys to help me with that,” said Blancarte.

Employers can also report whether they were satisfied and reschedule service.

The hiring hall, which works as a non-profit, also offers work training, including computer classes and English lessons.

But while the hiring hall helps enforce fair labor practices, it’s also raising legal questions about the hiring of day laborers, many of which are known to be undocumented.

Blancarte admits she doesn’t ask workers for papers.

“That is between the employee and the worker not between me and the worker,” she said.

Hiring a worker without proper documents is illegal but in this case the hiring hall doesn’t do the hiring.

“If the hiring hall isn’t actually hiring anybody, they don’t violate that law,” said former U.S. Attorney, Pete Nuñez.

The burden of checking for legal status to work does not fall on the hiring hall but the employer, whether it’s a company or a resident looking for help at home.

“If the government can prove that you knowingly hired an illegal alien, it’s a felony,” said Nuñez.

But the reality is the risk of getting in legal trouble for picking up an undocumented day laborer for help is low.

A Homeland Security spokesperson told Fox 5, hiring halls like this one and day laborers are not at the top of their list when it comes to cracking down on illegal immigration.

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