Philly’s unregulated ‘underground economy’ is ripe for tragedy

By Vinny Vella (Philadelphia Daily News)

Jose David Ortega of Camden liked to work with his hands.

In July, Ortega and two other men, all three of them day laborers, were razing a defunct Blockbuster in Cherry Hill.

A wall collapsed on Ortega, killing him, said his mom, Odily Castro. When she buried her son a week later, she said, the expense was shouldered entirely by the family.

That’s because Ortega, 40, a father of two, was an undocumented immigrant brought to the U.S. in the ’80s by his mother, who was granted political asylum after fleeing the Contras in Nicaragua.

Ortega’s story embodies the plight of day laborers, who experts say make up an “underground economy” that is being exploited.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that the number of foreign-born workers killed on job sites in the Philadelphia area (which includes parts of South Jersey, Delaware and Maryland) has spiked in recent years. Some victims are undocumented day laborers who sacrifice safety for a salary.

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