Business, Economics and Jobs

Immigration authorities target oil spill cleanup workers


(Image by BP America (cc:nd-nc-nd))

This story was originally published on PRI's The World. For more, listen to the audio above.

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Workers are busy trying to clean up the oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, while ICE officials are busy checking papers. Annie Correal reports for PRI's The World that many of the people working to clean up the oil spill are women from the Dominican Republic. They often work 12 to 14 hours each day earning $12.00 an hour plus overtime and a daily allowance. They've also been answering to immigration officials lately, who have shown up on work sites asking them to produce proof of immigration status.

"We’re Latinos, but we’re here legally," Elena de la Cruz, a 30-year-old mother of three working on the cleanup, told The World. She added that officials "should investigate before they go and scare you like that."

The immigration officials showed up at the request of St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack Stephens. "We're not worried about people who want to earn an honest buck," Stephens said in a statement reported on Colorlines. "But from the beginning (of the oil spill) we have been concerned about criminal elements coming into this area with the intention of establishing criminal enterprises."

"That happened after Hurricane Katrina and we don't want it to happen again," he added. "We're concerned illegal aliens with criminal records represent a danger to our parish."

Immigration advocates are crying foul, both for the actions of the parish and the rhetoric used to justify the immigration checks. Lucas Diaz, executive director of Puentes New Orleans, told Colorlines: "It's the same kind of language you see everywhere else at the local, state and federal policy level, where they try to take a harsh position and scare the public into thinking that anyone who might lack documentation and appears to be Latino is a criminal."

Saket Soni, executive director of the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice, added, "If St. Bernard's government officials would actually spend time on public policy that was in line with real people's priorities, then they would be cleaning up the oil in the sea in the Gulf of Mexico instead of scapegoating immigrants in their own community."

Meanwhile, workers like Elena de la Cruz are continuing the work of cleaning up the oil spill. She says that Latinos are the ones cleaning up the oil spill, and they don’t complain. They go out and get it done. And on this oil spill, there's plenty of work for anyone who wants to join in.

PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. More "The World."