Immigrant day laborers who once helped to rebuild New Orleans have found that their efforts will continue to go unnoticed by public officials on the eighth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. For anti-immigration Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), undocumented immigrants put legal residents in harm’s way, though apparently not the other way around.
Vitter was adamantly opposed to the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s office decision to decline voluntary immigration detention requests earlier this month. The policy change means New Orleans officials will not detain immigrants solely because of their immigration status. A lawsuit by two reconstruction workers Mario Cacho and Antonio Ocampo charged that they were kept months beyond their sentences. Further, the Orleans Parish said that keeping inmates “jailed after they post bond or their sentences expire places an unnecessary burden on taxpayers.” Vitter said:
This public embrace of sanctuary policy also tells every illegal alien listening to break U.S. law, come on over, and come to New Orleans in particular. In some cases, this puts residents of Orleans Parish in harm’s way unnecessarily; we know of many instances in which an illegal alien is released by local authorities and then commits a fatal crime.
As it stands now, the policy change does not apply to immigrants who are being held on felony charges for violent crimes. But while Vitter and other immigrant opponents may characterize undocumented immigrants as criminals, perhaps the residents may remember otherwise — legal and undocumented Latino workers directly contributed to making 86.9 percent of the houses habitable in the six surrounding New Orleans parishes after Hurricane Katrina. At the time, undocumented day laborers comprised at least 54 percent of the reconstruction workforce in New Orleans.
Tasked with removing toxic mold, rebuilding efforts, and demolition, immigrants were exploited by unscrupulous employers. As Saket Soni, executive director of the National Guestworker Alliance and the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, told Al Jazeera America, “Immigrant workers were often retrieving dead bodies from homes without gloves and masks. Workers who were injured on the job, instead of being compensated for their injuries, were simply discarded.”
Meanwhile, undocumented immigrants continue to be shut out in the cold. The FEMA website strictly prohibits undocumented immigrants from access to federal funds citing, “Those in the United States with temporary tourist visas, student visas, work visas and temporary resident cards are not eligible for disaster assistance.”