Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A quick update

All is well for myself so far. I arrived in New Orleans with the rest of our school Monday evening; we ate at Mulate's (excellent restaurant with live Cajun music and dancing - even had parents with their children - stop by), and we got to work the next morning.

I've been placed with the New Orleans Worker's Center for Racial Justice with about 20 other students from across the country. My official job in the morning is Legal Observer - a quick overview. After Katrina hit, several "headhunters" went to various places across the country and in latin America promising reconstruction jobs to individuals willing to relocate to New Orleans temporarily. These individuals experienced all kinds of problems - many ended up arriving to find no work. These are the people with whom I've been assigned to observe. Others have been placed at jobs being paid far less than the market rate for the industry while the local black population is told that these immigrants are "taking" their jobs for less money. in other words, the work force is being pitted against themselves in an attempt to acquire lower prices for work that used to cost employers more to receive, but I digress.

The workers who arrived to find no jobs often arrived with no papers - either with the promise of an h2 visa or some other similar type of situation. They arrived with most noble intentions. They want to help the city rebuild. They are skilled laborers who arrived with the promise of steady work. What they encountered was a city that was hostile to the hispanic influx, who they viewed as invaders. The contractors have preyed on these now day laborers, hiring them and then at the end of the work period (week, 2 weeks, month, etc.) stiff them on pay - shoving them out, pulling guns on the immigrants, calling ICE (formerly INS), etc. The police have been hostile, collecting the immigrants, shoving, beating, threatening these workers who are gathering in legal locations looking to find work.

Our job is to observe the workers at the corners. We're to provide a NLG presence to the corners, to see how the police interact, how the property holders act, and observe any malfeasance. We are not intervenors; we are not there to "fix" things immediately. We are there to provide a presence, to start the ball rolling towards finding a solution to a problem that these individuals have found themselves in in spite of themselves.

These immigrants did not wake up one morning and say "hey, I think I'm going to illegally immigrate to the United States today so I can stand on a street corner and be harassed by various Americans in hopes that I can find work with a guy that *might* pay me so that I can afford to eat and/or sleep." That's something that seems to be missed by so many Americans. They were preyed upon and are now being treated in a hostile manner. To quote one of the laborers, Oscar, "they (the people driving by) will brake for a dog, but not a Mexican." Even if you don't agree with the presence of the laborers, nobody deserved such treatment.

More later, probably with a restatement of the quote with some building upon.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

Steve, how fortunate you are to be able to experience this. It sounds like a once in a lifetime you will be able to write about :o)