Post-Katrina workers plagued by employer deception, racism, homelessness, and a toxic environment

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Dan Nazohni, a member of the White Mountain Apache Nation, was recruited, along with 79 others on his reservation, to do $14-an-hour labor in post-Katrina New Orleans. The broker who did the recruiting was paid $1,600 by the tribal government for gas and incidentals. He then dropped the workers off in New Orleans and disappeared, never to be seen again. The Apache tribal workers were homeless for days, and wound up in a tent city in City Park, where the rent is $300 a month. Nazohni says he has found barely enough work to scrape by.

Gail Duncan works in the kitchen of a New Orleans restaurant, but she cannot afford to rent an apartment. Her family lived for several months in Fort Worth, Texas, but, Duncan says, her daughter was threatened (reason unknown) by the children at her school, and school officials told her to leave the state. Now she and her children sleep on the floor of a relative’s public housing apartment.

Mario Fuentes, who does demolition work, traveled to New Orleans from Houston at the end of 2005. After working for four days, the contractors dropped him off at a fast-food restaurant, bought him a hamburger and a cold drink, then drove away and never came back.

Jorge Ramos, a Honduran man from Houston, was part of a team of a dozen tree service workers cleaned up debris in New Orleans’ Garden District. They worked twelve hours a day for thirteen days and earned $20,000, but were never paid. They are living in tents in City Park.

These scenarios represent the gist of a report released yesterday by the Advancement Project and the National Immigration Law Project. The report is filled with examples of racism, deception and police harrassment.

The police harrassment concerns the alleged checking of migrant workers for gang tatoos by members of the NOPD. However, an NOPD spokesman says that police officers would never do such checking unless a complaint had been called in.

In addition to being underpaid, denied overtime, not paid at all, and living in cars, tents and flood-damaged buildings, many migrant workers also work in possibly toxic conditions.

The report calls the treatment of workers in New Orleans “a national crisis of civil and human rights.” Considering the reaction to the crisis of suffering caused by the U.S. Corps of Engineers during Katrina, it would be near-futile to expect an appropriate reaction to this post-Katrina tragedy.

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