National Journal on Civil Rights Crisis in New Orleans
Federal contractors lured undocumented immigrants to New Orleans after Katrina. Now the city’s Latinos want police and immigration agents to stop harassing them.
The National Journal
NEW ORLEANS – “Who wants to be the mayor?” Fernando Lopez asks a group of more than 300 Central American workers gathered in a church gym near the Lower Ninth Ward.
No one raises a hand.
Lopez, an organizer with the Congress of Day Laborers, is looking for a volunteer to play the role of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu during a recent meeting.
Also read the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s coverage of the Congress of Day Laborers’ Children’s March here.
STAND with Dignity in Shelterforce Magazine
By Katy Reckdahl
Looking out his window in the morning, he could watch every part of the construction yard. He saw every new worker hired. No one looked familiar.
“Nobody from our community was working there,” said Marshall, who had some carpentry experience. He asked foreman on the site, who sent him to a nearby “hiring trailer,” but it was never open. The situation seemed all wrong, he said.
Two years later, Marshall is a near-expert on Section 3, a law that requires contractors funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to give preference to qualified residents when making new hires. And the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) is one of a handful of housing agencies now prioritizing Section 3 requirements as a way to combat the extreme poverty and sporadic employment faced by many public-housing residents.
Congreso to Mayor Landrieu: Stop Feeding the Obama Deportation Machine
From the New Orleans Times-Picayune (9/11/14):
After nine years in America, Murilo Scherr may be sent back to his native Brazil because he forgot to use his turn signal, he told New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu Wednesday (Sept. 10) at a meeting of the Congress of Day Laborers, an immigrants’ rights group.
Scherr said he was on his way to his home in Mid-City one night this spring, returning from a shift at a local restaurant, his second job, when a New Orleans Police Officer pulled him over and, after seeing that he had a Brazilian license, called Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
He was held in jail for 20 days while the federal government launched a legal process to deport him.
Forced to wear an ankle monitor and submit to home monitoring, Scherr lost both of his jobs as he waits to be sent home.
Scherr was one of several immigrants who shared similar stories during the meeting, which CDL called called to put pressure on Landrieu to change the NOPD’s policy of cooperating with ICE to find and deport immigrants in the country illegally.
Right from the beginning, the grass roots group put Landrieu on the hot seat…
The Lens NOLA exposes NOPD racial profiling of Latinos
From The Lens (9/11/14):
The New Orleans Police Department has been detaining Latinos suspected of being in the country illegally and turning them over to federal immigration agents, an immigration advocacy group says.
A federally appointed firm that is monitoring sweeping reforms at the Police Department is reviewing those complaints, according to a recent report.
The report doesn’t name the group, but Yihong “Julie” Mao, a staff attorney for the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, said her group has raised concerns with the consent decree monitor about the issue.
She said she hopes the practice will soon end, once the department revises its policies on nondiscriminatory policing.
Her organization believes there should be a clear separation between police who enforce state and local laws and immigration officials who deport people based on federal laws. More importantly, the federally enforced consent decree to reform the Police Department forbids officers from taking action based on real or perceived immigration status.
A recent incident occurred in March, Mao said.
A police officer stopped a member of her group, a construction worker, for a traffic violation in Mid-City, according to Mao and a Workers’ Center letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The officer issued him a citation and held him for hours, without explanation, until agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrived to take him away…
STAND, Congreso Featured in LA Weekly
Armed with signs, t-shirts and rallying cries, peaceful protestors descended on City Hall last Thursday to march in solidarity for International Workers’ Day, calling for full and fair employment and an end to deportations.
The protest—organized by the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ)—combined the plight of New Orleans workers, from local construction workers fighting for livable wages and safe working conditions to illegal immigrants threatened with deportation.
The group came together on May 1 to hand-deliver letters to Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Advisor to Mayor for Economic Development Aimee Quirk requesting meetings to discuss an economic development plan for the city that builds “thriving communities,” reduces violence and murder, and creates “equitable opportunities” for local workers in New Orleans.
Immigrants Fighting Deportation to March in New Orleans on April 5 National Day of Action
As Obama Administration Nears Two Million Deportations, Local Reconstruction Workers Say “Not One More”
NEW ORLEANS, LA, April 5, 2014 — Hundreds of immigrant reconstruction workers, their family members, and allies marched through downtown New Orleans on Saturday, April 5, to demand the right to remain in the communities they helped rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. The march, by NOWCRJ’s Congress of Day Laborers, was part of a National Day of Action against deportations by the #Not1More campaign.
The march came as deportations by the Obama administration were anticipated to hit the milestone of two million since the president took office. With deportations continuing to tear families apart every day, immigrants and community leaders in New Orleans are calling on President Obama to use his executive authority to suspend deportations and expand the deferred action program he created for immigrant youth.
“While Congress refuses to act, the president continues to deport our loved ones, devastating our families,” said Yoselyn Madrid, whose husband Edgar Godoy has been in immigration detention since January. “My three children and I desperately need Edgar home with us. The president can stop this senseless suffering and should.”
STAND exposes retaliation, sparks OSHA investigation at Iberville
From the March 27th New Orleans Times-Picayune:
[Stand with Dignity] said that a subcontractor has retaliated against the employees who lodged the complaint, which accuses it of failing to protect them from mold, lead and asbestos contamination. Durr Heavy Construction, the general contractor in charge of the project to redevelop the old Iberville housing development, bares ultimate responsibility for protecting the workers and preventing retaliation, according to the advocacy group.
In a “whistle-blower complaint” to OSHA dated March 25, Stand said that Delaney has since been subjected to threats and reprimands. A supervisor with Abatement Construction & Services Contractor, the subcontractor that Delaney works for, went so far as to threaten his life, according to the complaint.
Workers picket Iberville redevelopment, cite low wages and poor conditions
By Robert McClendon
New Orleans Times-Picayune
March 17, 2014
A pair of laborers, flanked by two dozen non-laborer protesters, picketed their job site at the old Iberville housing development Monday (March 17), complaining of substandard wages and unsafe work conditions.
As workers dismantle the 73-year-old tenement buildings to make way for a highly touted mixed income development, they are exposed to asbestos and other toxins, said Patrick Delaney, 35, one of the laborers who works for Abatement Construction & Services Contractor, a subcontractor on the project. He said laborers lack standard decontamination facilities and safety equipment, and they are working for less than a living wage, he said.
“I just feel like my life is worth more than $12.75 an hour,” Delaney said. “I’m dealing with hazardous materials and putting my life at risk.”
NBC Investigative Report on Brutal CARI Raids in New Orleans
Feb. 28, 2014
When Erlin Gomez saw police officers in front of his apartment complex on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2013, he parked his car and considered his options.
Gomez suspected the cluster of cops and unmarked cars blocking the gate to the heavily Latino complex was a checkpoint, designed to catch undocumented immigrants. In Jefferson Parish, a county just outside New Orleans, such encounters with local police and federal immigration agents had become common, according to Gomez and many in the growing immigrant community.
But Gomez, a 28-year-old undocumented immigrant from Honduras who arrived in Louisiana in 2006, had to take his chances.
Gomez got out of his car and walked toward the gate. A police officer intercepted him and asked for his ID and apartment number. “I said I didn’t want to tell him,” recalled Gomez, who’d already been deported once.
Congreso member Jimmy Barazza on NPR’s Latino USA
Feb. 14, 2014
The years passed, and yet Jimmy Barraza, an undocumented Honduran immigrant living in New Orleans, never could work up the nerve to ask his longtime girlfriend Lilly Zabala to marry him. He worked on post-Katrina construction sites; she cooked meals for laborers. They had two daughters, and despite the uncertainty of his immigration status, things were going well for them.
Then one day, their lives turned upside down when Jimmy was picked up in an immigration raid and detained for 28 days. While in lock-up, Jimmy promised himself he’d finally tie the knot with Lilly when he got out, and dreamed up a romantic proposal she’d never forget.
NEW ORLEANS, December 19, 2013—A report released today by the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ) revealed an Obama Administration pilot program of race-based community immigration raids that is devastating New Orleans—and warned that it may become the “new normal” for immigrant communities nationwide.
The little-known Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program, called the Criminal Alien Removal Initiative (CARI), involves indiscriminate community raids by ICE squads at apartment complexes, grocery stores, laundromats, Bible study groups, and other public places frequented by Latinos—based purely on racial profiling.
22 Arrested at Protest to End Harsh New Immigration Raids
Immigrants and community leaders block road at ICE office to demand end to brutal new “CARI” program
NEW ORLEANS, November 14, 2013—At 2:30 pm CT on Thursday, 18 immigrant workers and four community leaders were arrested during civil disobedience at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in New Orleans, demanding an end to a harsh new program of community raids by ICE that are tearing families apart and terrorizing the immigrant workers who helped rebuild New Orleans.
The workers and community leaders, members of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ), were arrested after occupying the corner of Loyola and Poydras streets in front of the ICE office for nearly two hours.
“I’m doing this for Juan Carlos Castillo Salazar, who was arrested by ICE after he dropped off his five-year-old little girl at the school bus stop,” said Mario Mendoza Molina, a member of the Congress of Day Laborers at NOWCRJ, who was one of the 22 arrested. “I’m doing this for Irma Esperanza Lemus, who cried when ICE agents handcuffed her and took her away in front of her husband and two children.”
Louisiana Supreme Court Strikes Down Anti-Immigrant Law
“Show me your papers” law led to racial profiling, draconian punishment
NEW ORLEANS, October 16, 2013—The Louisiana Supreme Court has struck down Louisiana’s “show me your papers” law (La. R.S. 14:100.13), continuing to dismantle the deportation state and pushing back on racial profiling against the Latino community.
“The Supreme Court has put Louisiana on the right side of history by rejecting a law that criminalized immigrants and promoted racial profiling,” said Saket Soni, director of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ). “Louisiana leads in harsh interior enforcement, with the highest recorded rate of deportations in any non-border state, but communities are pushing back to end the deportation state. Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman adopted a new policy in August locking immigration enforcement out of his prison. The court’s decision is a crucial next step.”
Workers Win End to Immigration Enforcement in Orleans Parish Prison
Amid national immigration debate, new pro-immigrant policy is one of farthest-reaching in the U.S.
NEW ORLEANS, August 13, 2013—Reversing his previous position, Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman has agreed to a policy that locks immigration enforcement out of New Orleans Parish Prison. The policy is one of the farthest-reaching of its kind in the country, and comes as some lawmakers push for broad criminalization and ever-harsher enforcement in national immigration reform.
As the New York Times reported, the new policy is part of a settlement agreement in Cacho v. Gusman (2:11-CV-225, E.D. Louisiana), a lawsuit filed by two immigrant worker members of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ). The two men were unconstitutionally held on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hold requests in Orleans Parish Prison for more than 160 and 90 days respectively. ICE hold requests are supposed to be limited to 48 hours, according the federal agency’s rules.
Hundreds March Demand End To Deportations in New Orleans
Undocumented New Orleaneans Declare Themselves “Undocumented and Unafraid” as City Representatives Promise Action To Defend Immigrant Rights.
Hundreds of immigrant workers and families marched through New Orleans on May 1st to demand an end to deportations and a commitment to workers’ rights and human rights in New Orleans. The march was one of hundreds across the country today, as the national drumbeat for immigration reform grew louder. The rally was addressed by representatives from City Council the the Mayors’ office who promised action to protect the rights of immigrant residents of New Orleans.
“Racial profiling needs to stop, no mater who it’s happening to in Orleans Parish and that is why I’m going to introduce an ordnance to stop ICE holds in the jail,” said Councilman James Gray to the applauding crowd, “this nation was built by people who were not born here, we are all immigrants.” Representatives from council members Palmer and Cantrell’s offices also address the marchers. Hundreds of immigrant workers and families marched through New Orleans on May 1st to demand an end to deportations and a commitment to workers’ rights and human rights in New Orleans. The march was one of hundreds across the country today, as the national drumbeat for immigration reform grew louder. The rally was addressed by representatives from City Council the the Mayors’ office who promised action to protect the rights of immigrant residents of New Orleans.
Tell Janet Napolitano: Stop Deporting Labor, Civil, and Human Rights Leaders!
Josue should know. He is one of 32 civil rights and labor organizers in the South facing deportation just because they stood up for their rights.
Sign the petition to tell Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to stop deporting these leaders!
For more information, visit the Stand Up 2012 campaign website.
NYT Editorial on the Need to Protect the Southern 32 and Human, Civil, and Labor Rights Defenders
When the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, John Morton, said in a June 2011 memo that his agency would focus on deporting convicted criminals and repeat immigration violators rather than noncriminals who pose no threat, he raised hopes of restoring balance to a broken system. He told agents and prosecutors to use “all appropriate discretion” with immigrants who lack criminal records, have deep family ties to this country and are pursuing “legitimate civil-rights complaints.”
But a year later, the promise has fallen short. Julia Preston reported in The Times on Thursday that the administration’s review of more than 411,000 deportation cases has had negligible results. Fewer than 2 percent of the cases were closed under the new discretion policy.
Delays in background checks are at the root of the inaction, but the problem goes beyond that. Immigration advocates in the South are trying to stop the deportation of dozens of people who spoke out against abuses like dangerous working conditions, unlawful arrests, unpaid wages, racial profiling and retaliation against those trying to organize. Instead of protecting them, the administration is trying to expel them. The fate of these immigrants, known as the Southern 32, will test whether the discretion policy is worth the paper it’s written on.
There is another reason for action. The Supreme Court is expected to rule this month on the constitutionality of Arizona’s coldblooded immigration law. If it upholds the right of Arizona and other states to wage their own immigration crackdowns, local officials and employers will surely be emboldend to push the undocumented further into the shadows. The Arizona model makes no distinction between criminal offenders and those who have earned a chance to stay.
President Obama is nowhere close to fulfilling his pledge to win legalization for 11 million immigrants who are languishing in this society without hope of fully joining it. As Congress continues to do nothing, it becomes more urgent that Mr. Obama act to protect those who could be well on their way to becoming lawful Americans but for the broken system.
Position Announcement: Immigrant Justice Organizer
New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice/Congress of Day Laborers
The New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice seeks a passionate, dedicated, creative organizer for the Congress of Day Laborers.
B.W. Cooper housing site’s slow march to rebirth reaches finish line
Published: Saturday, May 05, 2012, 7:00 AM
Katy Reckdahl, The Times-Picayune
After years of delays and a series of lost investors, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan on Friday dedicated the first replacement buildings at the B.W. Cooper housing development. Cooper’s new construction — a mix of boxy structures, most of them wooden two-story, townhouse-style buildings — was delayed far longer than the other three public housing complexes demolished after Hurricane Katrina. Donovan acknowledged the holdup, referencing “the long road” endured by residents, some of whom, he said, “had given up hope that they’d ever move back.”
Now, 13 of the 175 new apartments are occupied, most of them by residents who moved from two dozen, circa-1941 brick buildings that resident leaders fought to save from the wrecking ball.
Those original buildings are one of the ways that Cooper, recently renamed Yvonne Marrero Commons in honor of a prominent resident leader, is different from the other demolished complexes. Developers have also hired far more Cooper residents to build new apartments in what’s become a national template for public-housing renovation and employment.
“It’s different in a lot of ways from its sisters,” said Housing Authority of New Orleans administrative receiver David Gilmore. “Instead of moving back to the city from Texas or Georgia, most of the new occupants will come from the old buildings.”
Gilmore also said the practice of hiring residents “propelled us into national prominence,” noting that other housing authorities have called HANO asking how to ramp up hiring on their construction sites. Donovan said his agency was examining what made Cooper’s hiring process work to see whether it could become “a national model.”
Flashpoint for protesters
But before Cooper became a model for the country, it was thrown into a national spotlight as the site of some of the most heated post-Katrina protests about public-housing demolitions.
In early 2008, after getting the City Council’s blessing, HUD began demolitions in earnest on the so-called Big Four — Cooper, C.J. Peete, Lafitte and St. Bernard. All together, the agency knocked down 3,077 apartments that had been occupied before the storm.
But the federal agency’s first standoff with protesters came at Cooper in December 2007, where backhoes ate into 14 shoddy, 1970s-style brick buildings. The structures had been condemned before Katrina, and most residents supported the teardown. Protesters, however, viewed the move as a turning point in their fight to preserve the city’s public housing. Large crowds amassed at Cooper, where protesters blocked machinery and chanted “housing is a right.”
Even as demonstrators poured into their complex, Cooper’s Resident Management Corp. stood firm in favor of redevelopment. But they also believed that residents displaced after Katrina should have a chance to return home faster than HUD’s construction timeline would allow. So they fought to keep 350 “interim” apartments in the old brick buildings until the redevelopment was done.
“We were supposed to be emptied like the other three,” said Donna Johnigan, president of the Resident Management Corp., who said she and other leaders insisted on keeping about two dozen buildings.
Today, no other original Big Four structures are in use. The Cooper buildings have been fully occupied for several years, even as the new construction stalled.
By comparison, rebuilding was fairly swift at C.J. Peete in Central City, renamed Harmony Oaks, where 468 apartments are complete. Progress has also been steady in Gentilly at the St. Bernard, renamed Columbia Parc, which finished 515 apartments and has a few hundred more in the works. Both rebuilt complexes also have rich amenities: swimming pools, playgrounds and well-appointed community centers with exercise rooms. Nothing similar has yet been planned at Cooper.
St. Bernard, C.J. Peete and Cooper all have an equal number of apartments set aside for low, moderate and market-rate renters. Lafitte, which plans to replace every lost public-housing unit, has a higher proportion set aside for low-income renters.
Shortly after the ground-breakings for Peete and St. Bernard, the nation’s housing market collapsed. Lafitte and Cooper stalled. Cooper alone lost at least two investors, including The Richmond Group, which withdrew even after it sent its representative to wield a glittery shovel at a ground-breaking during President Barack Obama’s visit to the city a few years ago.
New leaders at HANO helped loosen both logjams. Thanks to an innovative HANO loan, Lafitte, renamed Faubourg Lafitte, has 276 rentals on its 6th Ward site, with a 100-unit building for senior citizens under construction and nearly 150 offsite units done or under way.
The fix came for Cooper last year with the help of a new investor, U.S. Bank, which provided nearly $50 million of tax-credit equity. To close the deal, HANO agreed to pair Cooper developer Keith B. Key Enterprises with more experienced developers McCormack Baron Salazar, which built Harmony Oaks.
Still the going was tough.
Congress in 2010 only extended the Gulf Opportunity Zone tax credits for one year, so Cooper’s contractors hustled to finish the 175 apartments financed through that program by December. More are under way: The development’s two-phase, $160-million plans call for a total of 410 apartments by July 2013.
Contractors also were hired last year to remove 60,000 tons of dirt because of pollutants. In March, Gilmore approved the disposal of 25,000 more tons.
There also were triumphs.
Residents pick up hammer
Last year, residents living in the brick apartments realized that almost no one working on slabs or hammering on frames was from their community. And they felt left out.
“It’s hard for me to go out the door and not be working on the job,” Alvin Blanton, a carpenter’s helper, told a City Council committee last year.
So Cooper neighbors organized as part of the group Stand With Dignity. They went to HANO and to Gibbs Construction CEO Larry Gibbs to demand jobs — and got them. In the end, Gibbs embraced the initiatives and began training residents on his own dime.
The result is that dozens of Cooper residents and people of equally low income were hired to work on the houses that were dedicated Friday.
The training and hiring framework developed at Cooper will also be implemented at Iberville when redevelopment begins there this fall.
“B.W. Cooper demonstrated that when thoughtful people work together, they can achieve this good stuff without anyone going broke in the process,” Gilmore said.
Immigration Rally Protests Deportation Hearings
By Eileen Fleming
May 2, 2012
Civil rights advocates are pushing the Obama Administration to stop deporting labor organizers. Several facing deportation hearings attended a rally outside New Orleans City Hall.
Jacinta Gonzalez is lead organizer for the Congress for Day Laborers. She translated for several Spanish-speaking members of the so-called “Southern 32.” Gonzalez says the Department of Homeland Security is using the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency – known as ICE — to target workers demanding their civil rights.
“Last summer they announced that they were going to be using prosecutorial discretion to close these cases. And they specifically said that they were going to be closing cases that had civil rights components. And so we think that these 32 cases are precise examples of that. But instead of closing their cases, we’re seeing that ICE is doing the opposite.”
Gonzalez says federal immigration officials are set to finish reviews by Friday on 3,000 cases pending in the New Orleans regional office.
WWNO News Features: Immigrants Who Rebuilt New Orleans Left Unprotected
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA (WWNO) – In the six years since Hurricane Katrina, a noticeable increase of Latino immigrants have come to New Orleans to work. Many of them have done the backbreaking jobs gutting, cleaning, and rebuilding our city, but for these newcomers, New Orleans hasn’t always lived up to its room-in-the-bowl-of-gumbo reputation. How New Orleans accommodates these — its newest and most vulnerable citizens– is one barometer for the kind of place a rebuilt New Orleans hopes to be. Eve Abrams reports. © Copyright 2011, WWNO
B.W. Cooper residents help rebuild development
Published: Monday, August 01, 2011, 9:00 AM
By Katy Reckdahl, The Times-Picayune
It’s not often that workers from the poorest neighborhoods in town get a chance to complain directly to a CEO about low wages. But recently, they did.
And the CEO said, “Yes, you’re right.”
Two weeks ago,low-income workers from the B.W. Cooper public-housing development told Gibbs Construction CEO Larry Gibbs that laborers helping to build Cooper’s new mixed-income community were being paid only $8.01 per hour, the current federal prevailing-wage minimum.
“Too low,” said Gibbs, who had convened a meeting with the workers and the 25 subcontractors he oversees as general contractor of the Cooper site. He ordered all his subcontractors to begin paying a base of $11 per hour.
The meeting underscored how Cooper residents, who began demanding jobs for themselves and their neighbors several months ago, have moved beyond protest and into an unprecedented working relationship with Gibbs and the Housing Authority of New Orleans.
Under pressure from residents, HANO administrators have audited employment at the site, even allowing resident monitors into HANO offices to inspect files and check for compliance.
The aim is to close long-acknowledged loopholes in the federal Section 3 law, which mandates that contractors on jobs financed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development give hiring preference to qualified public-housing residents, and then to other equally poor people.
For Links to other media coverage of this campaign follow this link.
EEOC SUES MAJOR LABOR TRAFFICKER, VINDICATES GUESTWORKERS
Statement by Saket Soni, Executive Director, New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice
Many of the workers trafficked by Signal International are members of the Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity, a project of the New Orleans Workers’ Center.
Today, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Signal International, LLC, a major Mississippi marine fabrication company, for its discrimination, segregation, and subjugation of hundreds of Indian guestworkers after Hurricane Katrina. The EEOC’s action is a vindication of a long fight for justice that started in labor camps in 2007. We applaud the EEOC for its action, the workers for carrying on an extraordinary campaign, and hundreds of civil rights and labor leaders who stood with the workers while they were under attack.
In 2007, the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice held clandestine meetings with workers who were trafficked by Signal into “man-camps” in the post-Katrina Gulf Coast. As meetings gained momentum, Signal retaliated, sending armed guards into the labor camps to quell the organizing. Signal attempted to privately deport workers involved in the organizing efforts. In response, workers went on strike.
The EEOC responded by starting an investigation. Four years later, they’ve filed suit against Signal. Their actions are in sharp contrast to another government agency – the Department of Homeland Security – whose officials colluded with Signal in retaliation against the workers’ courageous attempts to organize. As reported in the New York Times, company officials testified that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials advised Signal International’s illegal private deportations, and then worked with and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to do the company’s dirty work, offering to deport workers who “pushed the system” to access their basic civil and labor rights.
The workers pushed anyway. They escaped from the labor camps, marched from New Orleans to Washington, testified before Congress, and went on a 29-day-long hunger strike. Last year, as reported in the New York Times, exposure of ICE’s collusion with Signal International led to a legislative response: Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the POWER Act, which would protect immigrant workers from employers who use immigration as a weapon to undercut organizing.
These guestworkers were organizing to access the basic civil rights and labor protections that should transcend race and immigration status in the United States. For thousands of guestworkers, and millions of immigrant workers who are excluded from the right organize by race and the threat of deportation – but who organize anyway – the EEOC’s action is an important vindication of the right to organize.
Gambit Weekly by Alex Woodward on Thu, Mar 31, 2011 at 2:25 PM
- Alex Woodward
- Members of the BW Cooper community stand outside new construction in the housing development to demand Housing Authority of New Orleans provide local jobs.
“We were washed out, now we’re being locked out,” says lifelong BW Cooper housing development resident Alfred Marshall, walking outside a construction site-in-progress on South Galvez Street. The site’s contractors and the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO), Marshall and others say, aren’t hiring local — despite HANO director David Gilmore saying 40 percent of its crew would be from the community.
The contractors already must comply with Section 3 rules under the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, which stipulate 30 percent of the workforce be low-income residents. But residents and the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice say no local hires have been made.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” says resident Gary Truvia. “You put something in the paper telling us what you’re going to do, but when the job kicks off, it’s not true, and you wont answer to our questions why we can’t have the jobs. You promised us a certain percent.”
Community residents, union organizers and other supporters gathered outside the development this morning to demand Gilmore and the city for local job representation. The crowd chanted, “Good jobs now!” and “What do you want? Jobs! When do you want it? Now!” in front of the gates, separating the crowd from the development’s concrete foundations, as well as construction crews.
Some residents say they’ve been on a Section 3 waiting list for two years, and the site’s contractor KPK Enterprises has another waiting list. Residents call the hiring process a “a shell game”, moving one set of promises and paperwork to another department and losing jobs in the process.
“The residents of BW Cooper have been continually strung along for the last couple of years with promises of jobs, and we’ve seen that, this is a pattern especially since Katrina — a real effort to lock out poor black people from accessing jobs,” says the center’s campaign and resource director Colette Tippy. “We’re standing with BW Cooper in their long-term fight to really push forward an agenda of investing in a community that just needs jobs to have a better community, to be role models.”
Derrick Butler says he’s waited nearly three years to hear from Section 3, and contractors told him this morning that all jobs are currently filled for the BW Cooper development, and to call back next month.
Dawayne Shelley was hired and provided with on-the-job training to lay the foundation and slab work for the development. “That big bulldozer over there? I can drive it like I’ve been driving it forever,” Shelley says. Now, he says, the community is being shut out from those employment opportunities.
“We’re willing to learn. We’re employable,” Truvia adds.
The development’s plans call for 410 units, but if Congress fails to renew GO Zone funding by the end of September, the number of units could be slashed by 40 percent — which could cut the labor force and further shut out the BW Cooper community from employment.
“People are being told if they don’t have a job they can’t get into this community once its rebuilt,” Tippy says. “There’s a combination of things going on to disperse this really long-term community.”
Statement by the Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity
on the Department of Labor’s proposed H-2B regulations
GUESTWORKERS WIN VICTORY IN U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR’S
PROPOSED CHANGES TO REGULATIONS FOR THE H-2B VISA PROGRAM
Proposed DOL regulations move guestworkers one step closer to inclusion
in basic labor protections, civil rights, and the right to organize.
“When we started our organizing in labor camps across the South, we dreamed of dignity and respect at work. We urge all those on the side of dignity to say, loudly, that these new rules are right, so we can make that dream real.”
– Daniel Castellanos, founding member, Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity.
On March 17, 2011, the Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity won a major victory and a vindication of five years of organizing, advocacy, and litigation as the Department of Labor proposed new regulations for the H-2B non-agricultural visa program. We laud these proposed regulations – now we have to ensure the Department of Labor adopts them as proposed. Businesses are gearing up to fight them. We urge all allies to submit written comments within the 60-day comment period to ensure these proposed regulations become law.
These new regulations, if adopted, will help prevent employers from manipulating the H-2B program to engage in labor trafficking and debt servitude of guestworkers. Among the proposed new policies, three are the most significant:
Employers must pay for all costs that workers incur on their way to the first day at work on the H-2B visa program. Under the new regulations, each employer must pay for transportation, visa, recruitment, and all other costs related to using the program. This prevents employers from creating conditions of debt servitude: guestworkers routinely take on crushing debt in order to get a visa. Arriving at work in debt, they cannot afford to organize or report an employer’s illegal conduct, because employers have the power to deport them back into debt servitude.
In 2007, founding members of the Alliance of Guestworkers—among the first guestworkers imported to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina—organized to hold their employer responsible for travel, visa, and recruitment costs. Each guestworker had paid approximately $5,000 in costs, plunging their families into debt. They were trapped in debt and their employer Decatur Hotels did not comply with its contractual promises. The DOL stood with the guestworkers as they argued in federal court, in Castellanos v. Decatur Hotels, that they were, in effect, excluded from the minimum wage. “The DOL’s new regulations are a vindication of our fight,” said Jose Sanchez, member and plaintiff in the litigation. “Even though the court ruled against us, these regulations can overturn the misguided court ruling. As a result, more guestworkers will be able to exercise their rights.”
Employers must guarantee workers ¾ of the hours promised in the contract on a month to month basis.The comments section of the Department of Labor quotes the expert Congressional testimony of members of the Alliance to describe the problem: “Daniel Angel Castellanos Contreras, a Peruvian engineer, was promised 60 hours per week at $10-$15 per hour. According to Mr. Contreras, ‘The guarantee of 60 hours per week became an average of only 20 to 30 hours per week – sometimes less. With so little work at such low pay [$6.02 to $7. 79 per hour] it was impossible to even cover our expenses in New Orleans, let alone pay off the debt we incurred to come to work and save money to send home.’” Because workers cannot switch employers, and cannot return to debt, employers are able to hold workers even when they do not fulfill their promise of providing work. Guestworkers become a captive workforce, waiting to be put to work by employers who have a ready supply of temporary labor. This new policy would give workers a lever to fight for the employment they were promised.
The DOL is implementing real protections for U.S. workers, so that employers cannot use the H-2B program to pit guestworkers against local workers. Guestworker Miguel Angel Jovel Lopez arrived on an H-2B visa in Nashville at a time when the city was experiencing close to 10% unemployment. He recounts: “We realized we were being used. Used as cheap labor, and used to undercut the local American workers.” Again and again, the Alliance’s campaigns have exposed how employers have defrauded the U.S. government in order to exclude local workers from jobs – and exploit guestworkers. The new regulations would create much-needed protections for U.S. workers to intervene in the race to the bottom.
The new regulations, if passed, would go a long way in making sure guestworkers can access their basic civil and labor rights. We urge all advocates, unions, workers’ centers, civil rights organizations and high-road employers – all those who are on the side of respect and dignity at work – to submit comments to the Department of Labor within the 60-day comment period through the regulatory commentary process supporting these new regulations.
Please follow these simple instructions for filing comments online:
The proposed regulations are available at: http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=ETA-2011-0001-0001
Comments can be submitted online at the below link: http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=ETA-2011-0001-0001
The Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity is anchored by the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice. Please send copies of comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and contact Jacob Horwitz, Lead Organizer, Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity with any questions: (504) 452-9159 email@example.com
Dear friends and allies,
Immigrant workers in New Orleans launched a powerful campaign last week to win the right to remain– the right to be permanent community members in the city they helped rebuild. On Feb. 2, 2011, members of the Congress of Day Laborers filed a major federal civil rights lawsuit against Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman. The same day, with the support of civil rights and faith leaders, they launched a 24-hour prayer vigil that culminated in moving testimonies before the City Council about how the Sheriff’s policies and practices are leading to racial profiling and race-based deportations though Orleans Parish Prison (OPP). Five years after they arrived in New Orleans as reconstruction workers, members of the Congress of Day Laborers entered a battle to defend their own place in the city they now call home.
Cacho, et al. v. Gusman. This major civil rights lawsuit brought by members of the Congress of Day Laborers who are represented by the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice Legal Department (NOWCRJ) and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) exposes fundamental violations of law brought on by Sheriff Gusman’s decision to submit to hold requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These hold requests are often based on mere suspicion — as a result of racial profiling– that a person is a noncitizen.
“Sheriff Gusman’s policy leads to detention of community members– mothers, fathers, students, and reconstruction workers– on standards of proof far below what is constitutional and conscionable,” lead counsel Jennifer Rosenbaum, legal director for NOWCRJ, said to a packed City Council meeting on the day after the filing.
The lawsuit details how Sheriff Gusman’s choices and abuse of power have led to indefinite detention in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Reconstruction worker Antonio Ocampo was held for 91 days after his misdemeanor charges were resolved, and Mario Cacho was held for 164 days after his municipal charge was resolved. Both had filed written grievances inside OPP and were only released after taking legal action. Their indefinite detention violated their Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights to liberty and due process under the U.S. Constitution, which protects the fundamental rights of all members of the New Orleans community.
The prayer vigil. The 24 hour-long prayer vigil at the Sheriff’s office brought immediate support from local and national allies. Pastors and neighbors came out to pray, sing, and show their support for reconstruction workers’ right to remain in New Orleans. Workers shared moving stories about how friends and loved ones had disappeared through Sheriff Gusman’s jail, and the atmosphere of terror that they struggled with every day as a result.
Retaliation. Early Thursday morning, seventeen hours into the prayer vigil, Sheriff Gusman’s officers followed, Ezequiel Falcon, a leader of the Congress of Day Laborers and participant in the prayer vigil, as he drove from the prayer vigil site to the offices of the New Orleans Workers’ Center. Just out of sight of the vigil, the Sheriff’s officers ordered him out of his vehicle, interrogated him, and threatened him with arrest. The officers told Ezequiel that they had surveilled the vigil and that they had identified him as a leader. They then asked for his documents, demanded to know his home address, and threatened to arrest him and send him to Orleans Parish Prison.
“The Sheriff was trying to send all of us a message,” Ezequiel said after his harrowing interaction with Gusman’s officers. “But we shall not be moved.”
City Council. On the heels of their 24 hours in prayer, members of Congress of Day Laborers marched to a City Council meeting to witness an historic vote limiting Sheriff’s Gusman’s power in the expansion of his Orleans Parish Prison. The proceedings ended with moving testimonies and expert statements from reconstruction workers and their supporters about the Sheriff’s illegal conduct, the workers’ right to remain, and the consequences of the Sheriff’s choice to submit to hold requests from ICE which funnel immigrant workers into deportation through his jail.
Jacinta Gonzalez, lead organizer of the Congress of Day Laborers, said: “The reconstruction workers who rebuilt New Orleans and made it their home are living in terror because of Sheriff Gusman. The Sheriff is running his jail in a way that all but ensures that even a person with a traffic ticket who is brought to his jail will be funneled into deportation on the mere suspicion that person may be a non-citizen.”
One member recounted how he arrived in New Orleans to rebuild after Katrina. He described how he removed corpses with his own hands from houses in neighborhoods across the city. “Tell me,” he said to city council members and all those gathered, “Do you believe I have the right to remain in New Orleans?”
A chorus rang from the packed room: “Yes!”
The right to remain in permanent community. Immigrant reconstruction workers in New Orleans are doing more than asking Sheriff Gusman for policy– they are asking fundamental questions about community. Can a local community decide who is woven into its fabric? Can the people of New Orleans, in attempting to determine their own local destiny, decide that immigrant workers are permanent members of the city they helped to rebuild? Or should immigrants live in constant terror of being removed? Should fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, neighbors and fellow parishioners, live each day as if it was their last in the community they love?
Join us as we continue to press ahead in a vibrant campaign to win the right to remain. And thank you to all those who helped launch our efforts last week.
The New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice
National Immigration Law Center
Featured Campaign: Immigrant Reconstruction Workers Demand Right to Remain in New Orleans
On Wednesday, Feb. 2, members of theCongress of Day Laborers launched a powerful campaign to win the right to remainin New Orleans five years after they arrived as reconstruction workers to rebuild the city.
Members filed a federal lawsuit (download PDF) that exposes blatant racial profiling and constitutional violations at Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s Orleans Parish Prison (OPP). The sheriff is funneling immigrants into deportation through OPP by choosing to submit to “hold requests” from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Members and allies also held a 24-hour prayer vigil at the sheriff’s office Wednesday to demand he reverse his policy of submitting to hold requests from ICE.
“The reconstruction workers who rebuilt New Orleans and made it their home are living in terror because of Sheriff Gusman,” said Jacinta Gonzalez, lead organizer of the Congress of Day Laborers. “The sheriff is running OPP in a way that ensures that even a person with a traffic ticket who comes to his jail will be funneled into deportation on the mere suspicion that person may be a non-citizen.”
As the lawsuit details, Sheriff Gusman’s policy of submitting to hold requests from ICE has led to severe violations of the Constitution, including deprivation of liberty and due process. Plaintiff Antonio Ocampo, a father of a young child, was held unlawfully in OPP for 91 days. He filed five written complaints, all of which were ignored. His co-plaintiff Mario Cacho, another reconstruction worker, was held for more than 160 days. Federal law limits imprisonment on custody holds from ICE to 48 hours.
“I filed this lawsuit today not only for myself, but so that no one else will have to suffer as I did, spending months in jail without charge,” Ocampo said. “Too many people are living in terror because of the way Sheriff Gusman runs his jail.”
- 2/2/11 Press release on lawsuit and campaign
- Complaint filed 2/2/11 in Cacho v. Gusman (PDF)
- New Orleans Police Superintendant rejecting policy of coordinating with ICE on 2/1/11 (audio and text)
- Coverage of Antonio Ocampo’s release after 91 days of illegal imprisonment
VICTORY FOR ORGANIZED DAY LABORERS
AS LOUISIANA OPENS FIRST DAY LABORER CENTER
We live in hard times and the odds seem against us. But it’s still possible to win dignity and respect for day laborers and all immigrant workers through the sheer power of organizing. Across the U.S., day laborer centers are under attack. But on Saturday, January 29, 2011, the City of Gretna, Louisiana inaugurated a new day laborer center even in the midst of the racist and anti-immigrant sentiment of the region and the nation. The victory was a major reversal of power and a result of over six months of organizing. It was also a lesson that organized workers can inspire a city to act on principles of inclusion, opportunity, and access for all.
In early 2010, the City Council of Gretna proposed an an ordinance that would criminalize day laborers. The Congress of Day Laborers successfully won public opinion:
Six months later, the Congress of Day Laborers turned crisis into opportunity. Not only did we beat back the criminalization ordinance, we negotiated successfully with the Mayor of Gretna to open the first-ever day laborer area the region, funded by the City, and supported by the police and City Council:
- GRETNA DAY WORKERS FIND SAFETY IN DESIGNATED AREA, January 29, 2011
- A SAFE SPACE FOR DAY LABORERS (pictures)
- WORKING TOGETHER IN GRETNA: An Editorial, Times Picayune, Feburary 5, 2011
In the current political climate, this represents a ray of hope. The day laborer center will be a gathering space and a space to organize. But also represents a broad consensus we were able to organize in Gretna around the idea that strong economies can be based on inclusion, not exclusion — and that public safety means everyone’s safety, including the safety of day laborers. The Mayor of Gretna stood up at the inauguration publicly committed to the Congress of Day Laborers that the center was the beginning of a dialogue, not the end — and he committed to working on police abuse issues and wage theft. The mayor vowed to make Gretna a “model community” in partnership with day laborers.
Thank you to all those who supported this effort!
Contact: Saket Soni, 504.881.6610
New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice
VICTORY IN NEW ORLEANS!
FEDERAL JUDGE ORDERS RELEASE OF IMMIGRANT DETAINEE FROM SHERIFF’S ILLEGAL CUSTODY
Community pressure defeats Sheriff’s attempts to bring ICE into the courtroom, wins Antonio Ocampo’s release after 97 days
Photo: Ted Quant
We are thrilled to announce that Antonio Ocampo walked out of the New Orleans federal courthouse a free man on Monday, November 15, after spending 97 days in illegal custody on an expired immigration detainer. The Chief Federal Judge ordered his immediate release after Antonio filed a writ of habeas corpus from inside Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) Friday. Antonio was embraced by cheering community members after a coordinated legal and organizing strategy won his release and beat back Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s attempts to drag ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) into the courtroom.
“Inside, I knew they were violating my rights. I complained to jail officials. I filed five written grievances. But no one listened,” said Antonio on the steps of the federal courthouse moments after being released.
Antonio is a member of the Congress of Day Laborers, a project of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice. The Orleans Parish Criminal District Court ordered Antonio’s release on August 12 based on time he had already served on misdemeanor charges. He should have been set free immediately. Instead, Antonio was held in jail because ICE had placed an immigration detainer on him (commonly known as an ICE hold). That gave ICE 48 hours to investigate, charge, or detain Antonio. ICE never did. According to law, Sheriff Gusman should have set Antonio free at the end of 48 hours. Instead he continued to hold Antonio illegally for 97 days, in violation of his Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
As soon as our Legal Department filed the petition for writ of habeas corpus on Antonio’s behalf on Friday, the Sheriff attempted to turn him over to ICE – effectively trying to deport the evidence of his own violations of the Constitution. We stopped him.
Then, soon after U.S. Marshals served him with papers ordering him to federal court, Sheriff Gusman attempted to drag ICE into the courtroom. He announced through his lawyers that he would be asking ICE to attend and testify at the federal hearing. Organized day laborers, clergy, and community members faced off with the Sheriff all day in protests and negotiations and forced him to back down. At the end of a long, tense meeting just an hour before the hearing, Sheriff Gusman relented and ordered his lawyers to call ICE off.
Antonio’s case makes it very clear that ICE detainers lead to violations of constitutional rights. Sheriff Gusman effectively suspended the Constitution in relation to Antonio. If Antonio Ocampo had not filed a writ of habeas corpus from the jail, his illegal detention would have been indefinite. When advocates and an organized community bring egregious civil rights violations to light and attempt to hold Sheriffs accountable, Sheriffs use even the expired detainers to immediately attempt to deport the evidence – as Sheriff Gusman did on Monday. The recent expansion of the federal Secure Communities program into Orleans Parish Prison is likely to make these routine constitutional violations even more pervasive.
What do we want now? First, ICE should set Sheriff Gusman free. ICE should allow Sheriff Gusman to decide not to submit to ICE detainers and allow him to opt-out of Secure Communities. Second, Sheriff Gusman should run his jail in line with the Constitution. He should affirmatively decide to end the use of detainers in OPP and throw Secure Communities out of his jail.
“When the Constitution says ‘We, the people,’ that includes Antonio,” said Jose Zelaya, a member of the Congress of Day Laborers, at the triumphant press conference on the courthouse steps Monday. “We, the people includes me. We, the people includes all of the residents of New Orleans and all of the communities in the United States,” said Mr. Zelaya.
NOWCRJ News Coverage:
ABC News 26
Protesters Demanded the Release of 22 year old Antonio Ocampo, Today- Vanessa Bolano Reports 11/15
WWLTV Channel 4
Judge Rules OPP inmate was held too long, orders release
Federal Judge Orders Inmate to be released.
February 4, 2010: A Bitter Guest Worker Story
Editorial, The New York Times
A federal agency appears to have collaborated in an effort to silence foreign workers who claimed they were lured here under false pretenses and abused by the company they worked for. The role of Immigration and Customs Enforcement – reported in The Times by Julia Preston – is being investigated by the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department.
February 2, 2010 – Suit Points to Guest Worker Program Flaws
By Julia Preston, The New York Times
Immigration authorities worked closely with a marine oil-rig company in Mississippi to discourage protests by temporary guest workers from India over their job conditions, including advising managers to send some workers back to India, according to new testimony in a federal lawsuit against the company, Signal International.
The cooperation between the company and federal immigration agents is recounted in sworn depositions by Signal managers who were involved when tensions in its shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., erupted into a public clash in March 2007.