The immigration wave hits New Orleans
Yesterday Michael Martinez wrote a front-pager for the Chicago Tribune about the influx of Latinos into New Orleans looking for post-Katrina reconstruction work. Today, Leslie Eaton has a similar story in the New York Times. Some highlights from Eaton’s piece: [A trailer park] is a temporary home for hundreds of LVI’s workers, some of whom ...
Yesterday Michael Martinez wrote a front-pager for the Chicago Tribune about the influx of Latinos into New Orleans looking for post-Katrina reconstruction work. Today, Leslie Eaton has a similar story in the New York Times. Some highlights from Eaton's piece:
Yesterday Michael Martinez wrote a front-pager for the Chicago Tribune about the influx of Latinos into New Orleans looking for post-Katrina reconstruction work. Today, Leslie Eaton has a similar story in the New York Times. Some highlights from Eaton’s piece:
[A trailer park] is a temporary home for hundreds of LVI’s workers, some of whom said they were in the United States illegally. They are commuting into New Orleans, swabbing the mold off walls, ripping the guts out of buildings, removing mountains of soggy debris. And they are stirring up resentment. Louisianians, from high-level public officials to low-wage workers, have begun to complain about the influx of outsiders they perceive as having come to profit off their pain…. Workers from all over have been pouring into Louisiana, some bused in by contracting companies, others simply turning up on their own in search of jobs. While nobody seems to know how many are here, there is plenty of work; the federal government estimates it will spend more than $450 million just to clean up hurricane debris. And as that work continues, Louisianians are casting unhappy eyes on everyone from the giant construction companies that won federal contracts to the small-town builders driving big pickup trucks with out-of-state license plates. Much of the overt hostility is focused on the army of Latino workers who appear to be doing much of the dirtiest cleanup work, often in the employ of those big companies, and often for less money that local workers might insist on…. Employers point out that they are not required to investigate the authenticity of employees’ documents. And as for bringing in workers, some say they have no choice. “People in the area of impact are disjointed, disoriented,” said Burton T. Fried, president of LVI Services. But in places where LVI will be working for a while, it tries to make a transition to local workers, Mr. Fried said. “The purpose is, forgetting morality, that we don’t have to pay per diems, food service, transportation,” he said…. Hard and unpleasant as cleanup work is, there are Louisianians willing to do it, said Barry Kaufman, the business manager of Construction and General Laborers’ Local 689 in New Orleans. Mr. Kaufman has said he has at least 2,000 people willing to take cleanup jobs, although many of them – and the local’s hiring hall – are now displaced in Baton Rouge, more than an hour’s drive from New Orleans. “The local guys are trying, but there’s nowhere for them to stay,” Mr. Kaufman said, adding that one of the camps “looks like Little Mexico.” The situation is new to Louisiana, which has little tradition of attracting large numbers of transient workers, unlike Florida and other booming areas, said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Economy.com. The stagnant economy here has not provided many job opportunities since 2001. The complaints also reflect the widespread frustration over the continuing lack of housing in the area. Tens of thousands of houses were destroyed by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, leaving their former residents adrift. Businesses of all sorts are frantically advertising for workers, even as the jobless rate for Louisianians jumped to 11.5 percent in September, from 5.8 percent in August.
This is interesting stuff, but for my money, the Martinez piece in the Tribune is of greater interest because of two points not mentioned by Eaton. I’ve highlighted them below:
The swelling numbers of Hispanic migrant laborers, legal or not, have raised political tensions. A Tulane University historian speaks of a possible “population swap” between the city’s evacuated black population and its new Latino workforce, and the backlash was fueled by New Orleans’ African-American mayor, C. Ray Nagin, who recently uttered remarks deemed offensive by some. “How do I make sure New Orleans is not overrun with Mexican workers?” Nagin asked at an October forum with business people as he discussed the city’s future…. As more Latinos move into the region, a September survey found that most New Orleans evacuees in Houston, a large percentage of them black, didn’t plan to return. Officials don’t have a count of the Hispanic workers in the Gulf Coast region, but their presence–made more visible because they are working in evacuated areas–has drawn attention to the demographic, economic and legal impacts of such a large, cheap labor force–a good portion of it composed of illegal immigrants. (emphasis added)
This story raises all sorts of uncomfortable questions about immigration, race, and the economy. For me, the big question remains — if New Orleans was such a stagnant economy that those displaced to Houston don’t want to return, just how much money should be committed to reconstruction efforts? Over at The Plank, Jason Zengerle castigates the Times and other national outlets for not reporting on Nagin’s remarks. Props to Martinez and the Tribune for catching it.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
More from Foreign Policy
Saudi-Iranian Détente Is a Wake-Up Call for America
The peace plan is a big deal—and it’s no accident that China brokered it.
The U.S.-Israel Relationship No Longer Makes Sense
If Israel and its supporters want the country to continue receiving U.S. largesse, they will need to come up with a new narrative.
Putin Is Trapped in the Sunk-Cost Fallacy of War
Moscow is grasping for meaning in a meaningless invasion.
How China’s Saudi-Iran Deal Can Serve U.S. Interests
And why there’s less to Beijing’s diplomatic breakthrough than meets the eye.
Scoop: Turkey and Hungary Not Invited to Biden’s Big Democracy Summit
Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing
Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World
Netanyahu’s Legal Crusade Is Sparking a Military Backlash in Israel
Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?