HOUSTON, Tex.—With much of the work cleaning up debris from Hurricane Harvey being done by undocumented immigrants,
wage theft has spiked since the late-August storm flooded the area. While there has been more work since the storm, said Enrique, a Mexican immigrant waiting for a day-labor gig in a Home Depot parking lot, “you work five days, and some people pay you for three, then tell you they’ll pay you the rest later.” Jose, 56, from El Salvador, described how a contractor offered him $100 a day for eight 10-hour shifts cleaning out houses, but only paid him $600. “I didn’t want to take the money,” he said, “but my rent was due, and I could end up on the street.” “Houston needs a construction workforce that is unafraid to demand dignified wages and safe job sites,” Mauricio “Chele” Iglesias, an organizer with the Workers’ Defense Project, told the Intercept. Texas already leads the nation in on-the-job deaths in construction and the amount of money workers lose to wage theft—but challenging this is complicated by a new state law that lets police report anyone in their custody to immigration officials.