BURBANK, Calif. -- Chris James needed help moving a piano and three dozen boxes of records from his music studio, but rather than bring in some buddies, he rented a truck and hired day laborers outside the local Home Depot.
The two Guatemalan men finished the job in an hour and a half, hauling a piano and wedging a sofa into his condo, then stacking the boxes in a back room, for less than $40.
It was first time James had hired day laborers, but, he said, it will not be his last.
''Absolutely satisfied," said James, who is 31 years old.
The leading employers of day laborers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants, are homeowners, not contractors or landscapers.
''Day labor is not a niche market," said Abel Valenzuela, a UCLA professor and one of three authors of the first national day labor study, which was released in January. ''It's now entering different aspects of the national mainstream economy."
Forty-nine percent of day labor employers are homeowners, according to 2,660 laborers interviewed for the study. Contractors were second, at 43 percent.
The day-labor issue has been brought into the spotlight by the debate over overhauling immigration laws. Congress is considering whether to criminalize 11 million undocumented migrants in America or give them a chance at citizenship as part of plans to tighten border security and work visa requirements.
Activists are urging immigrants across the United States to skip work, avoid spending money, and march in the streets tomorrow to demonstrate their importance to the economy.
The protest has been dubbed ''A Day Without Immigrants." Activists south of border also have called for a boycott of all US businesses tomorrow in support of the protests.
Political and religious leaders, including President Bush, urged immigrant rights supporters yesterday not to take part in next week's boycotts from work and school, but to hold peaceful rallies or other events after the workday is done.
US homeowners like day laborers, many of whom who call themselves ''jornaleros."
This is because they make up a flexible labor pool with no red tape and no overhead. And they will do backbreaking jobs for far less money than regular contractors.
Day laborers like homeowners, too. Shady contractors routinely stiff them. Not homeowners -- the workers know where they live.
''And in houses, they give us food, water and soda," said Herminio Velazquez, 48, one of the men who worked at James's condo.
While some homeowners are uncomfortable hiring people who likely have no work documents, they often don't believe they are doing wrong.
That position is rejected by advocates of a crackdown on illegal immigration.
''They know they are hiring illegal aliens and breaking the law," said Joseph Turner, who is trying to force San Bernardino to outlaw taxpayer-funded day labor centers. ''They are contributing to the illegal immigration problem."
House passage of an immigration overhaul bill that would criminalize illegal immigrants has stirred widespread protest demonstrations.
The Senate is working on compromise legislation that seeks to give illegal immigrants temporary work visas that might eventually lead to citizenship. Though Senate leaders promise progress, the legislation has stalled amid a flurry of amendment attempts and may not pass in this election year.