October 10, 2005


Immigrants Rush to New Orleans as Contractors Fight for Workers: As many evacuees stay away, Latin American workers move in, lured by soaring pay. They could change the face of the city. (Peter Pae, October 10, 2005, LA Times)

With 140,000 homes destroyed or damaged by Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is undergoing the nation's largest reconstruction effort and its new workforce is largely Latino. No one knows how many immigrants have descended here since Katrina ravaged the city five weeks ago, but their presence is visible throughout the city. [...]

"We'll stay here because I think the job will last a long time," Abimael Diaz said, as he and Filegonia downed a large bowl of beef soup. "If we can make enough money, we would like to buy a house and bring our children to New Orleans."

For building contractors like Perry Custer, who owns a small construction firm in New Orleans, the newcomers are a welcome addition. Custer is rebuilding six apartment buildings and office complexes. It's enough work to last a year, but after the hurricane most of his workers fled.

He has been hiring and now has 23 workers installing drywall and doing odd jobs. Most of them are from Mexico, Custer said, and he needs at least 10 more.

Recently, he sent his foreman to Atlanta and Houston to round up extra help, "and he could only get two workers," Custer said. "Everybody's fighting for workers."

The demand is so great that Custer doubled the salary for a former Latino employee who quit to take his family to New York before the hurricane, but who has since returned to New Orleans. Custer initially offered him $15 an hour — now the going entry-level pay — but the ex-employee balked. After a 15-minute phone conversation, Custer agreed to pay him $17 an hour.

The need for laborers has already spawned a new local industry.

Issac Oro, a roofer in New Orleans before the hurricane, runs a temporary employment service of sorts for laborers, supplying workers to construction firms.

Known as a broker by contractors, Oro said he had 30 to 40 workers available each day for work. He provides housing and meals to the workers, who share a cut of their wages with him.

"I could use another 20 to 30 people," said Oro, who immigrated to New Orleans from Honduras in 1982. "I was making good money doing roofing, but this is better."

Contractors say one advantage in using Oro is that they don't have to deal with paperwork or check to see whether the workers are in the U.S. legally.

"There is a 'don't ask, don't tell,' mentality right now," Custer said. He added that there didn't seem to be any effort to crack down on illegal immigrants. "If they do who will rebuild New Orleans?"

"We got people coming in from all over who are obviously Hispanic," said Romualdo Gonzalez, an immigration lawyer in New Orleans. "If you go downtown and see the crew cleaning up, 80% are Mexicans."

The influx of Latino workers is raising concern among city officials. Last week, Associated Press reported, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin asked local businesspeople, "How do I ensure that New Orleans is not overrun by Mexican workers?"

According to census figures, in 2000 there were about 15,000 Hispanics in New Orleans, or 3% of the population. Latino leaders and academic experts say the newcomers are likely to change the face of the city.

It's prior face was rather ugly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 10, 2005 11:05 AM

I'm sure NRO is having a meltdown over this as well as it goes against their anti-immigrant stance.

Posted by: AWW at October 10, 2005 11:24 AM

Aren't only the Darwinists--like Derbyshire--anti-immigration?

Posted by: oj at October 10, 2005 12:03 PM

Last week, Associated Press reported, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin asked local businesspeople, "How do I ensure that New Orleans is not overrun by Mexican workers?"

So, basically he wants to take a crap on the people trying to help him out.

No wonder N.O. had problems.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at October 10, 2005 2:16 PM

Nagin: "How do I ensure that New Orleans is not overrun by Mexican workers?"

How about getting some of those people sitting around in shelters to go get a job cleaning up their city? Impossible, I know, but seeing the hundreds of hispanics criticized while lining up for work crews while able bodied residents kick back on a bunk saying they need help ticks me off.

Posted by: Patrick H at October 10, 2005 3:33 PM

'bout time the city had a Latin Quarter that actually lives up to its name...

Posted by: John at October 10, 2005 4:24 PM

Mr. Judd,

Pretty much the entire clan at NRO is anti-immigration. Until the Miers thing came along, Bush's stance on immigration was the issue that was going to tear the party apart. Of course... that was also before Katrina came along and spending became the big issue that would tear the party apart. Hmm...

Posted by: mc at October 10, 2005 4:37 PM

Did all those Goldbergs, Ponnurus and Lopezs come on the Mayflower?

Posted by: oj at October 10, 2005 4:40 PM

Mc - that's my point about NRO. Campaign Finance reform, the transportation bill, Lott's racist comments, Plamegate, WMDgate, Katrina, Cheney's health, Bolton's nomination, etc. were all big danger points that were going to crush Bush's presidency according to NRO.

Posted by: AWW at October 10, 2005 7:56 PM