Katrina’s Children

If indeed the GOP had hoped post-Katrina New Orleans would be whiter (and redder) than pre-Katrina New Orleans, it seems they hoped in vain. Eduardo Porter writes in today’s New York Times that the mostly Latino illegal immigrant community in New Orleans is growing fast.

First came the storm. Then came the workers. Now comes the baby boom.

In the latest twist to the demographic transformation of New Orleans since it was swamped by Hurricane Katrina last year, hundreds of babies are being born to Latino immigrant workers, both legal and illegal, who flocked to the city to toil on its reconstruction.

The throng of babies gurgling in the handful of operational maternity wards here has come as a big surprise — and a financial strain — to this historically black and white city, which before the hurricane had only a small Latino community and virtually no experience of illegal immigration. …

… There has been a small Latino population in New Orleans for several decades, mostly Hondurans who came after Hurricane Mitch battered Central America in 1998. But that population has started to grow.

According to the Louisiana Health and Population Survey, released in November, the number of Latinos living in households in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes has increased by about 10,000 since 2004, to 60,000, even as the total population has fallen by about a quarter, to roughly 625,000.

Last summer, researchers at Tulane University estimated that there were 5,000 to 7,000 illegal Latino workers in Orleans Parish alone, excluding nonworking relatives. But some community workers estimate that tens of thousands have arrived since the storm.

Immigrants can be seen working on roofs, installing Sheetrock and laying tile all over town, from the up-market Lakeview neighborhood in the west to East New Orleans. At the Lowe’s home improvement store in the city’s Bywater neighborhood, clusters of day laborers mill about in the parking lot every morning, waiting for jobs.

A year ago reports came out that the federal contractors the Bush Administration favored with lucrative contracts were recruiting illegals to do the work, and paying them near-slave wages. In the December 18, 2005, Washington Post, Manuel Roig-Franzia wrote,

The come-on was irresistible: Hop in the truck. Go to New Orleans. Make a pile of cash.

Arturo jumped at it. Since that day when he left Houston, more than two months ago, he has slept on the floors of moldy houses, idled endlessly at day-laborer pickup stops and second-guessed himself nearly every minute. …

… Arturo, a dour Mexican from Michoacan who did not want to disclose his last name for fear of deportation, stands at the nexus of the post-Hurricane Katrina labor crisis in New Orleans. A city desperate for workers is filling with desperate workers who either cannot find jobs or whose conditions are so miserable, and whose salaries are so low, that they become discouraged and leave.

Our President keeps telling us these are jobs “our people” won’t do … um, wait a minute, here …

At a New Orleans town hall meeting in Atlanta, displaced black civil rights activist Carl Galmon complained: “They’re bringing in foreign workers from South America, Central America and Mexico, paying them $5 an hour sometimes for 80 hours a week. They are undercutting the American labor force in New Orleans.”…

…For those who find work, conditions can be abominable, with laborers such as Rico Barrios and his wife, Guadalupe Garcia, slashing through the cough-inducing mold on walls in flooded Lakeview with only thin masks to shield their lungs, even though she is pregnant. “It’s hard,” said Barrios, who is from Mexico City, his face glistening with sweat.

This doesn’t have anything to do with jobs “our people” won’t do. It has to do with work “our federal contractors” don’t want to pay for.

David Sirota has a relevant post today at Huffington Post

… employers are using immigration and temporary visa programs to short circuit the labor market. The rules of supply and demand that corporations tell us we must never mess with are only applicable when those rules help corporations – but when they begin helping ordinary workers, the supply (in this case, of labor) must be artificially rigged to keep wages down.

It isn’t just wages that are affected. In New Orleans, the baby boom among illegals is swamping the hospitals and health care system generally. Of course, the mothers have no money, no health insurance, and they are barred from most government assistance. The few clinics that will provide free prenatal care to illegal immigrants are overloaded. So many mothers get no prenatal care; they don’t see a doctor until they go into labor. Emergency rooms have to take them at that point. After the babies are born the mothers hesitate to ask for assistance for the babies (who are citizens) because the mothers fear being arrested.

After Katrina there was talk about the inequality and poverty the storm had exposed. Even the President, in his famous Jackson Square speech of September 15, 2005, spoke of the “lessons” of Katrina and the problems of poverty —

When communities are rebuilt, they must be even better and stronger than before the storm. Within the Gulf region are some of the most beautiful and historic places in America. As all of us saw on television, there’s also some deep, persistent poverty in this region, as well. That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action. So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality. When the streets are rebuilt, there should be many new businesses, including minority-owned businesses, along those streets. When the houses are rebuilt, more families should own, not rent, those houses. When the regional economy revives, local people should be prepared for the jobs being created.

Is it possible that Bush actually believed this when he said it?

I realize there is fault to be found in all levels of government, but — damn, this is just bleeped up.

I’m speed-blogging today during jury recesses, so if the post is incoherent in spots — well, I know you’ll add corrections to the comments.

3 thoughts on “Katrina’s Children

  1. As I look at the Katrina issue, I am struck by how FDR would hava approached the problem. Based on how he tried to address the great depression, I think he would have identified in the first 30 seconds that the 2 key components of a disaster of that magnitude is 1) the amount of work that needs to be done and 2) the number of displaced persons now without employment. Making the 2 pieces fit would have been the centerpiece of his solution. And FDR would have recognized that the workers have to be paid a wage high enough for them to get back on their feet.

    Sadly Bush saw an excuse to cut wages and line the pockets of the wealthy parasites who feed on government projects.

  2. Pingback: The Mahablog » New Orleans: What a Difference a Year Didn’t Make

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