Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have been targeting BP’s job sites in Louisiana in a hunt for undocumented workers who are risking their lives to clean up the disastrous oil spill. El Diario/La Prensa and Feet in 2 Worlds, a public radio investigative journalism project, broke the shocking story today. ICE spokesperson Temple H. Black confirmed the report (via Erin Polgreen):
ICE, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, visited two command centers, one in Venice and the other in Hopedale, twice in May. ICE agents arrived at the staging areas without prior notice, rounded up workers, and asked for documentation of their legal status, according to Black.
The command centers, located in the marshes a few hours east of New Orleans, are among the largest, with hundreds of workers employed at each site.
“We don’t normally go and check people’s papers—we’re mostly focused on transnational gangs, predators, drugs. This was a special circumstance because of the oil spill,” said Black.
There were no arrests at either site, according to the ICE spokesman. But he said if undocumented workers had been discovered, they “would have been detained on the spot and taken to Orleans Parish Prison.”
Workers report that federal officials showed up in unmarked cars and out of uniform. Black insisted, “These weren’t raids—they were investigations.”
They certainly weren’t investigations into worker safety, though. As ColorLines’ Julianne Hing reported Tuesday, BP has not only failed to provide proper training and haz-mat gear for workers braving its toxic stew; it has also threatened to fire workers who use their own protective gear, provided by the Louisiana Environmental Action Network.
But if ICE spokesperson Black is to be believed, federal oversight is more concerned with scapegoating immigrant workers for the region’s downward-spiralling economy. El Dairo/La Prensa and Feet in 2 Worlds report:
“We visited just to ensure that people who are legally here can compete for those jobs—those people who are having so many problems,” said Temple H. Black, a spokesman for ICE in Louisiana.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, thousands of Hispanic workers, many of them undocumented, flocked to the region to help in the reconstruction of Louisiana’s coastal towns. Many stayed, building communities on the outskirts of New Orleans or finding employment outside the city in oil refineries and in the fishing industry.
These Hispanic workers have been accused of taking away jobs from longtime Louisiana residents, and the tension has grown as fishing and tourism jobs dry up, leaving idle workers to compete for jobs on the oil spill clean-up effort.
We’ll have more on this story next week.
Photo: Reuters/Sean Gardner