Friday, October 07, 2005

New Orleans: The Mexicans are coming, the Mexicans are coming!

Hurricane: A followup article on this earlier post shows that Mayor Nagin isn't the only one who is ticked off that the type of people they don't want overunning New Orleans are already there. The problem is the locals are not running back to New Orleans and companies/cities can't wait around.

"They clear rotten seafood from stinking restaurant freezers, wash excrement from the floors of the Superdome, rip out wads of soaked insulation. The work is hot, nasty and critical to the recovery of New Orleans. And yet, many of the workers are not actually from New Orleans. Many of those engaged in the huge cleanup and reconstruction effort here — nobody has an exact count — are immigrants, both legal and illegal, from Mexico and Central America. Meanwhile, as many as 80,000 New Orleanians sit idle in shelters around the country. They are out of work, homeless and destitute. That irks some civic and union leaders. "I've got nothing against our Hispanic brothers, but we have a whole lot of skilled laborers in shelters that could be doing this work," said Oliver Thomas, president of the City Council. "We could put a whole lot of money in the pockets of New Orleanians by doing this reconstruction work." Roman Feher, an organizer with the Laborers Union, said: "It's really a shame. We're trying to get people back on their feet. The last thing we need is contractors bringing people in from out of state." Mayor Ray Nagin added his voice to the chorus this week, telling local business people: "How do I ensure that New Orleans is not overrun by Mexican workers?" At the same time, interviews with some Katrina refugees suggest New Orleanians are in no big hurry to return for these jobs. In fact, many Katrina refugees have been landing jobs in communities around the country. "Other guys out here in Houston and other areas of the state, we have better opportunities to make money here," New Orleans truck driver Wayne Cousin said at a refugee shelter in Houston. The situation in New Orleans is part of a controversial pattern seen across the country: Immigrants are often willing to do the dirty jobs many Americans won't take. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and Rep. William Jefferson, a Democrat who represents much of New Orleans, said they are trying to pressure federal authorities to ensure that government cleanup contracts use Louisiana labor. But private companies are free to hire outsiders, and state officials say they are powerless to do more than urge local hiring. "Our position is, we want these businesses to hire Louisiana people first," said Ed Pratt, a spokesman for the Louisiana Labor Department. "If they are hiring out-of-state Hispanics, we can't control that."

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