An Alabama employment agency that sent 70 laborers and construction workers to job sites in that state in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina says the men were sent home after just two weeks on the job by employers who told them “the Mexicans had arrived” and were willing to work for less.
Linda Swope, who operates Complete Employment Services Inc. in Mobile, Ala., told The Washington Times last week that the workers — whom she described as U.S. citizens, residents of Alabama and predominantly black — had been “urgently requested” by contractors hired to rebuild and clear devastated areas of the state, but were told to leave three job sites when the foreign workers showed up.
“After Katrina, our company had 70 workers on the job the first day, but the companies decided they didn’t need them anymore because the Mexicans had arrived,” Mrs. Swope said. “I assure you it is not true that Americans don’t want to work.
“We had been told that 270 jobs might be available, and we could have filled every one of them with men from this area, most of whom lost their jobs because of the hurricane,” she said. “When we told the guys they would not be needed, they actually cried … and we cried with them. This is a shame.”
Mrs. Swope said employment agencies throughout Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi faced similar problems, when thousands of men from Mexico and several Central and South American countries — many in crowded buses and trucks — came into the three states after Katrina, looking for employment and willing to work for less money.
The number of foreign workers who flooded the area after the hurricane has been estimated at more than 30,000. Many of them have been identified by law-enforcement authorities and others as illegal aliens.
The Gulf Coast Latin American Association noted in a report that whether those workers will remain after the cleanup work is completed is not clear, but the longer those jobs last, the more likely it is that the workers will settle permanently. After Hurricane Andrew hit southeastern Florida in 1992, the association said, the construction boom attracted large numbers of Hispanic immigrants to several areas, including Homestead, Fla., where the Latino population doubled during the 1990s.
Many of the illegal aliens came into the Gulf Coast states not only from south of the border but also from California, Arizona and Texas, responding to the demand for workers. U.S. Border Patrol officials in the three states have reported an increase in the number of illegals apprehended.
Some of the migrants who did get jobs in the Gulf states also were mistreated, records show. Two class-action lawsuits are pending in federal court in New Orleans in which thousands of migrant workers said they never were paid, although many worked 12-hour shifts, seven days a week and were required to remove toxic contamination from hurricane-ravaged buildings.
Some of the named companies were working on contracts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other government agencies.
Government estimates put at 400,000 the number of jobs lost in the Gulf region as a result of Katrina, which displaced more than 1.5 million people, and many of those workers left the area to seek employment elsewhere because available construction, laborer and cleanup jobs in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi had been filled by foreign workers, including illegal aliens.
President Bush last week signed the Katrina Emergency Assistance Act of 2006, which extended for 13 weeks unemployment compensation benefits to more than 140,000 residents of the Gulf states who were displaced from their jobs by Katrina. Their benefits, funded by FEMA, had expired March 4.
Would-be employers in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, awash in cleanup and reconstruction jobs, faced little in the way of legal problems in hiring the illegal aliens after Katrina because the Department of Homeland Security temporarily suspended the sanctioning of employers who hired workers unable to document their citizenship.
Mr. Bush also had suspended the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires local contractors to pay “prevailing” wages, in the areas hit by Katrina to encourage reconstruction and cleanup.
“The men we sent to jobs in Alabama were local fellows looking for work, men who needed jobs,” Mrs. Swope said. “After driving 50 miles to the work sites where they had been promised $10 an hour, they discovered the employers had found substitutes who were willing to work for less.”