Jacinta Gonzalez, an organizer with the Congress of Day Laborers in New Orleans, tells a story about the abuse of workers rebuilding the city after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. She once met a man who went to his employer’s house to demand payment for his labor on a construction site after the employer stiffed him of his dues. The man’s boss came at him, swinging a hammer. The worker immediately called the police.
When they showed up, she says, the first thing they did was ask for his immigration status. “These are the sort of situations that prevent day laborers from asking for help when their wages are denied,” Gonzalez says.
The politics of immigration are thorny, but it is a simple truth that construction companies routinely use day laborers without checking their immigration status: Thousands of those workers have helped and are helping to rebuild New Orleans. But those workers commonly suffer abuse due to their immigration status, including threats of violence and wage theft. Despite the best efforts of workers’ rights groups, five years after the hurricane, advocates say abuse remains rampant. Now, those groups are calling for specific legislation to protect vulnerable workers — documented and not — and to make sure they get their due.
After Hurricane Katrina, the number of undocumented workers in New Orleans increased substantially, in part because of a Department of Homeland Security directive to suspend employment immigration enforcement in the area immediately following the storm. The suspension expired quickly, but it created an inviting environment for undocumented immigrants, says Elizabeth Fussell, a professor at Washington State University...[Full Article]