Jose Mauricio Ortiz was just 14 when he was drafted into the military to fight in the Salvadoran civil war. He stayed in the service for another 12 years before venturing abroad to find a way to support his six children.
He worked a number of odd jobs in Houston before making his way to California, where he suffered an injury while working in Fresno. One day, one of his superior officers called him from El Salvador and asked him about his location. He had a work visa ready to go, a parting gift courtesy of the military, one that would take him to Canada legally. But he was already in the U.S.
“If I had known that, I wouldn’t be here illegally,” Ortiz said in Spanish.
Ortiz, now 47, has been a San Francisco day laborer for the past eight years. He sleeps wherever he can, he said, sometimes on park benches or against the outside wall of a shelter when all the beds are full. Calling it a “home away from home,” Ortiz now relies on the San Francisco Day Labor Program at 3358 Cesar Chavez for services like healthcare and legal representation. Five years ago, he says, he was beaten by employers and arrested after they claimed he was the aggressor.