Immigrants make New Orleans a much stronger community – The Times Picayune – 3/29/17

The Times Picayune

Immigrants make New Orleans a much stronger community

March 29, 2017

by Bill Quigley and Audrey Stewart

We all work hard to make New Orleans succeed. But there’s one group of friends and neighbors we can’t do without. They contribute $7.6 billion to the greater New Orleans metropolitan area’s economy. They pay $73.8 million in state and local taxes, plus $213.2 million in federal taxes. They’re nearly twice as likely to own their own businesses as the average New Orleanian, with their businesses generating $174 million in income in 2014 alone.

That group is our fellow New Orleanians who were born in another country.

The city of New Orleans released a report last week called “New Americans in Greater New Orleans: A Snapshot of the Demographic and Economic Contributions of Immigrants in the Metropolitan Area.” It demonstrates with data what we already know from our families, neighborhoods, workplaces and communities of faith: immigrants and refugees in New Orleans are a vibrant part of our city’s economy, culture and strength.

New Orleans has survived far worse than Trump’s threat to withhold federal grants.

They come from a variety of countries — Honduras, Vietnam, Mexico, Nicaragua and India are the top five. They are working in a variety of sectors, including food processing, construction, manufacturing, professional services and tourism, whether as employees of local businesses, self-employed, or as business owners themselves. More than a quarter of New Orleans’ “main street” businesses are owned by immigrants.

Most foreign-born New Orleanians are long-term residents: more than 64 percent of them have been in the United States for more than 10 years. And they help keep jobs here that our community needs. The report estimates that in 2014 alone, immigrants helped create or preserve 4,285 local manufacturing jobs that we otherwise wouldn’t have.

Despite the contributions the report details, many immigrants and refugees in the metro area report living in constant fear –especially at a time when the Trump administration is criminalizing and demonizing them en masse for political gain. They worry about being subjected to racial profiling and arrested by immigration enforcement simply for going about their daily lives: dropping their children off for school, going to work, their place of worship, or the grocery store.

No one really knows, but here are a few things to be aware of.

Worse, in immigration proceedings, foreign-born New Orleanians have one of the lowest rates of legal representation in immigration cases in the United States. Immigration cases are high stakes. Winning can mean avoiding lifetime separation from a spouse and children and continued economic stability for a family — not to mention their continued contributions to our community. Immigrants in detention who have direct representation on their cases are more than 10 times more likely to succeed than without. And immigrants with direct representation who are released from detention during their cases are 20 times more likely to succeed on the merits of their case.

The city of New Orleans has taken important steps already. The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office and the New Orleans Police Department have adopted immigrant friendly policies, which make us all safer by letting immigrant victims and witnesses come forward without fear. The city also has publicly rejected the already discredited 287(g) federal immigration program, which tries to force state and local law enforcement into immigration policing.


In addition, we need to take the following steps to build on the strength our immigrant and refugee communities bring us:

Recognize the deep contribution of immigrant and refugee families to New Orleans.

Expand the right to counsel and direct representation for immigrant families and workers before and during deportation proceedings.

Continue to research and consult with stakeholders to develop city policy that is best for New Orleans.

Support immigrant organizations, trade unions and faith communities whose members are most affected by the expanded deportation regime.

Expose the private prison companies benefiting from expanded detention and deportation at the cost of immigrant families and rural communities.

The Trump administration thinks that attacking immigrants and refugees will help it politically. But here in New Orleans, we don’t play politics with the lives of our friends and neighbors. We know our diversity makes us better as a community.  We will stand together to resist divisive policies as we work together to build a stronger New Orleans.

Bill Quigley is professor of law at Loyola University in New Orleans. Audrey Stewart is managing director of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice.