Immigrants Cleaning Up Oil Spill Nothing New

bp cleanupEarlier this week, the Colorlines blog reported that Louisiana St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack Stephens set up checkpoints and called federal agents to BP’s cleanup sites because “illegal aliens” are building “criminal enterprises”—just like they did after Katrina. It’s unclear exactly what sort of “criminal enterprises” Stephens is referring to, but what is known and widely documented is the fact that immigrants helped rebuild New Orleans from the ground up after Hurricane Katrina.

Almost 50 percent of the hurricane-repair workers in the New Orleans were Latinos and 54 percent of them undocumented. While immigration hawks were quick to accuse undocumented immigrants of stealing jobs from U.S. citizens, it didn’t square with the fact that more than half of New Orleans’ residents abandoned their decimated city after Hurricane Katrina hit and rebuilt their lives elsewhere. In their absence, undocumented laborers worked side-by-side legal immigrants and U.S. citizens to get the city back on its feet.

Latino workers were directly responsible for making 86.9% of households habitable after Hurricane Katrina in six parishes surrounding New Orleans in 2008. By 2008, the purchasing power of Louisiana’s Latino buying power totaled $4.0 billion—an increase of 238.1% since 1990 A study found that that if all unauthorized immigrants were removed from Louisiana, the state would lose $947 million in expenditures, $421 million in economic output, and approximately 6,660 jobs.

Hurricane Katrina isn’t the only natural disaster that immigrants have responded to. In 2008, Hurricane Ike once again highlighted the nation’s dependence on immigrant labor. As always, immigration hardliners were quick to criticize the role foreign labor was playing in rebuilding parts of Texas. However, despite the fact that the nation was quickly heading into a serious recession, honest employers pointed out that there simply weren’t enough workers to fill the jobs. “We don’t hire anyone who’s illegal…We want to keep it local. We want to use people here in Texas, but there’s so much work,” business owner Chase Duhon told the Houston Chronicle after he had trouble finding legal local workers to help with hurricane cleanup. Leigh Ganchan, a Houston immigration attorney pointed out to the paper, “Our nation is more vulnerable…meaning we need people to help us rebuild our infrastructure after major disasters like this.”

In 2008, New Orleans was named the most violent city. However, contrary to what Stephens may imply, the rise in violence was largely attributed to criminals preying on the undocumented immigrants themselves. A “spree” of armed robberies against immigrants was motivated by the fact that those without papers are less likely to receive adequate assistance by the police and even less likely to even report the crime in the first place. Stephens might be better off informing recent immigrant workers of their rights and working to gain the trust of and establish a productive relationship with the new immigrant community.

andreaIWorkers who have been displaced by the BP oil fiasco should undeniably have the first shot at jobs. BP officials claim they are training more than 4,500 unemployed workers in three affected states, including Louisiana. So far, that’s not enough. In the end, as Tyler Falk of Grist points out, there’s something seriously wrong with the fact that “British Petroleum can legally come to the Gulf and devastate an entire ecosystem and the economy it supports, but when “illegal” immigrants come to clean up the mess, they are treated like criminals.” Immigration issues aside, it’s BP’s responsibility to provide restitution to the workers and families whose livelihood they have destroyed and to clean up the mess they created without inflicting any more harm or economic suffering than they already have.

Andrea Christina Nill

Reposted with permission from The Wonk Room.


  1. Annette says


    People who are angry about illegal aliens are not against immigrants, they’re against ILLEGAL immigration. Your articles on this topic always seem to merge the two, as if implying that folks are against immigrants in general, or Latinos in particular. That’s not the case. I’m not saying that racism doesn’t exist, but when you blithely merge all these issues, you squash discussion because it seems like you’re calling people racist for being against illegal immigration.

    Since most American taxpayers are descendants of immigrants, they’re perfectly OK with immigrants coming here to work. What they don’t want is to have to support illegal immigrants who are here to steal our resources instead of contribute to our society. For instance, when a woman from another country enters this country (either illegally or legally) and has a baby here, that baby is instantly an American citizen who can access all the US social service programs that US taxpayers fund. That means she can have no money and go to a hospital for the birth and not have to pay anything for the birth. If the kid is disabled in any way, he or she is entitled to 100% complete Social Security Disability for the rest of his or her life. Even if the kid’s parents never even paid anything into the Social Security system, their kid can help suck the life out of it just because they managed to have the birth in our country.

    That’s the kind of thing that bothers hardworking American taxpayers. So your article on how immigrants are working in Louisiana really is nothing new. Most of our immigrant ancestors started out here the same way. Most of us are struggling with multiple, low paying jobs as well. Why don’t you do a little research and see what those illegal aliens who AREN’T bothering to work costs us. Now that would be a useful article.

  2. Fritz Dahmus says

    Andrea…’re too cute to be so stupid. Illegal immigrants are crimminals….thus the word illegal! BP is in the Gulf along with everyone else in the world drilling for oil…..nothing illegal going on here. There are so many disgusting things to be said about BP….find them. Please excuse the sexist remark……just some cheap payback for how you guys love to call Palin and Bachmann prom queens.

    • Viva Los Esclavos says

      “Illegal = a crime”? You don’t know much about law.

      You are incorrect. Illegal immigration is *not* typically a crime, it is almost always a civil infraction. There’s a reason for this: If it were a crime, then they would be entitled to a defense attorney at the expense of the Government (they do not get one).

      Do you think every speeding ticket you get is a crime? Really? 10 MPH over the limit on a highway, and you are a *criminal* now? You have to answer “ex-convict” on all your job application forms? So no. No, it is not a crime. They are not criminals under the law, the same way you aren’t a criminal if you drive a little fast, or if you re-roof your backyard shed without filing the right kinds of building permits.

      But Ms. Nill misses something important here: Although we could use all the help we can get in the Gulf, there are HUGE problems with illegal aliens: They don’t give up a fuss when they get no disability benefits, they don’t give up a fuss when they aren’t given safety equipment, they don’t give up a fuss when they are being paid awful wages, and they don’t give up a fuss when their wages are withheld, they never see their last several paychecks, and they are threatened with reporting to ICE when they disobey their masters.

      There is a reason why BP and Halliburton are so “excited” about immigrant rights all of the sudden: They need cheap slaves. They need “no-question-asking”, “no-pay-needed”, “no-safety-worrying” slaves. They want to enslave people. BP and Halliburton and their buddies aren’t suddenly an “immigrant rights group”. Don’t be such a total fool.

      If I “hire” some aliens and beat them and intimidate them, expose them to lethal chemicals, and refuse to take care of the subsequent birth defects and thousands of deformed babies, if I refuse to pay them a fair wage, and even double-cross them on the meager wages I agree to … I’m not going to tell you about the beatings and intimidation. I’m not going to tell you ANY of that stuff! I’m just going to tell you how much these immigrants need the work. And you, apparently, will call me a hero.

      They are in it for the PROFIT. They need QUIET people who will act as slaves, and obey. That’s why they are hiring them. BP and Halliburton and their cronies are not liberal “immigrant lovers”. They’ve exploited the environment, the workers on the rigs, the U.S. taxpayers, and the world. They manipulate the press and bribe Congress. None of this is a big secret. It is an old story. BP was even involved in some scandals involving influence peddling with Winston Churchill. They have no limits.

      Did you know that directly after the explosion, they kidnapped several U.S. citizen rig workers and held them for a couple of days on a ship, because they refused to sign waivers of all their rights? That’s kidnapping … and that’s what U.S. citizens get from these guys, while in U.S. waters, no less!

      Now they want to exploit Mexicans. And you cheer their right to do so. How naive.

      You are advocating an immigrant’s right to be a slave.

      I am opposed to giving them an opportunity to be enslaved.

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