Governing Affect: Neoliberalism and Disaster Reconstruction

By Roberto E. Barrios | Go to book overview

7. Criollos, Creoles, and the Mobile Taquerias
LATINOPHOBIA IN POST-KATRINA NEW ORLEANS

After Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. federal government— under the direction of President George W. Bush— temporarily suspended the requirement that companies involved in the city’s reconstruction obtain documentation from employees and verify their eligibility to work in the United States. The official explanation behind this temporary change in policy was that New Orleanians were entitled to work in the reconstruction of their city and that accommodations should be made for those who lost documents such as drivers’ licenses, Social Security cards, or work permits during the storm. Despite this official justification, many New Orleanians interpreted the requirement’s suspension as a ploy to make available to reconstruction contractors low-cost and easily exploitable labor—namely, foreign- born workers who lacked a formalized immigration status and were therefore willing to work for lower wages (and in more hazardous conditions) than U.S. citizens and holders of official work visas. President Bush’s decision was also considered controversial because many displaced New Orleanians in need of employment would be bypassed for reconstruction jobs as their homes were either flooded or closed indefinitely (the latter applying to public housing residents whose units were closed by order of HANO and HUD) and as they were preoccupied taking care of their displaced families in distant cities like Houston, Atlanta, and Memphis.

Following the catastrophe, the city witnessed the arrival of contractors who specialized in reconstructing areas damaged by tropical storms in the Gulf Coast. Accompanying these companies was an influx of workers from within and without the United States. Studies of this workforce reported that 30 percent of these new arrivals self-identified as Latino, Hispanic, or Latin American, and 25 percent of this subset of laborers did not have a formalized status with the U.S. Immigration and Customs

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