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Risking lives to earn a living

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Would you put your life at risk day after day in order to earn an income?  Well, that’s a reality that many Latino immigrants must face on a daily basis and not by choice. Media and government reports suggest that immigrants are more likely to hold jobs with dangerous or poor working conditions than U.S. born workers. In part, it is due to the differences in average characteristics such as immigrant’s limited ability to speak English and their educational attainment; however, immigrants out of necessity will accept lower wage jobs and will do jobs that U.S. born workers will not do.  In a recent article in the NY Daily News, it was reported that a review of all fatal falls investigated by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) between 2003 to 2011 it was noted that 74% of construction workers who died were either U.S. born Latinos or immigrants.

As recent as 2011, NYC construction sites reported three fatalities where in each instance, the deceased was a Latino worker.  In a recent report by the Center for Popular Democracy, it is noted that Latino and immigrant construction workers are dying on job sites in NYC in disproportionate numbers.  Connie Razza from CPD who compiled the information also noted that contractors aren’t taking the appropriate measure to keep their employees safe nor are they providing the much needed training and the safety equipment which is required by law.  The safety violations later discovered are both sizable and significant.

Sadly, these alarming statistics are not only seen in NYC. Texas, known for its construction boom  in recent years, reports that of the nearly 1 million workers laboring in construction arena, approximately half are undocumented.  In an NPR article which discusses this problem, it states ‘working Texas construction is a good way to die while not making a good living’.  In a study by the WDP-UT (World Defense Project and University of Texas), it was found that more construction workers die in Texas than in any other state.  With 10.7 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2010, construction workers in the casually regulated Lone Star state died at twice the rate as those in California, with a rate of 5.2.  That’s compared to the U.S. rate of 8.8 in that same year.

Added to the lower wages is the fact that the workers do not have health insurance to cover their injuries nor do they have life insurance to cover the exorbitant costs of a funeral.

Needless to say the issue of being undocumented, and the hiring of the undocumented, is a very complex factor in this equation.  Having said that, I strongly feel it is imperative to hold contractors and the construction companies accountable while not jeopardizing the undocumented worker.  While I commend and support the efforts of the organizations mentioned above, and others who advocate for the immigrant worker, it saddens me to think that this is a difficult issue to conquer.


By Being Latino Contributor, Maria G. Rodriguez, RN, BSN, CHHC,

About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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