December 11, 2005

WE NEED THEM MORE THAN THEY NEED US:

A Hispanic work wave (Miguel Llanos, 12/08/05, MSNBC)

The color of Hancock County is changing. To the blue roof tarps and white FEMA trailers, add this: brown workers.

It’s a trend seen across Katrina country as Hispanics who worked in construction in other parts of the United States were drawn by the prospect of good money.

In this town and neighboring Waveland, the pre-Katrina demographics had been 80 percent white, 15 percent African American and less than 2 percent Hispanic. Since Katrina, however, Hispanics are very visible at the few restaurants now open and especially at the largest debris removal sites.

Workers like Osmin, a Honduran who had lived for years in California before seeking his fortune from Katrina. He acts as the foreman of a group of fellow Hondurans hired to remove debris, drywall and sheetrock from a Bay St. Louis school. [...]

Many of these Hispanic workers are in the country illegally, which means they fly under the radar of social services and employment centers.

But they have become a critical part of the workforce, filling in a gap that most locals are unable or unwilling to deal with.

“The need far outweighs the help that’s available,” says Tee McCovey, a Mississippi Department of Employment Services supervisor. “And it will be like that for years.”

MORE:
Americans Still Aren't Rushing to Take Some Jobs (Ruben Navarrette Jr., 12/11/05, Real Clear Politics)

The minute I saw the harrowing video of the scaffold caught up in high winds and crashing into a Denver office building 12 stories above the ground -- with two terrified window washers hanging on for dear life -- I just knew that when the time came to get the men's statements, we'd need a translator who spoke Spanish.

Maybe it's because Denver is one of those U.S. cities with a substantial immigrant population, both legal and illegal. Or because this looked precisely like the type of job that immigrant-bashers insist that Americans are eager to do -- dirty, distasteful and sometimes dangerous.

Maybe it was because of what I saw one afternoon a couple of years ago outside the 72-story Bank of America Plaza building in downtown Dallas. Coming back from lunch, I noticed what seemed to be two Mexican immigrant men getting instructions from a third man through an interpreter. The two men were tied to a harness and had cleaning supplies. It was obvious that they were window washers, and that they were headed straight up.

As I walked away, I remember thinking that this episode was positive proof of two things -- that immigrants will do just about anything, and that I'm no immigrant. Washing windows while dangling 70 stories off the ground? Not me. No thanks. Not at any price.

Still, someone has to do those jobs. That's where immigrants come in.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 11, 2005 9:15 AM
Comments for this post are closed.