Just weeks after Venezuelan migrants were shipped from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard to boost Ron DeSantis’ 2024 prospects, some Venezuelan migrants in New York City are reportedly being recruited to Florida to aid in Hurricane Ian cleanup.
“The migrants had scant information about whom they would be working for, but they still piled into vans in Queens that they said were headed to the Sunshine State over the weekend,” The New York Post said. Video obtained by the outlet showed a number of migrants readying to get picked up, bags and suitcases in hand. Perhaps the Florida Republican should have considered a pitstop on his flights returning from Massachusetts.
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Builders and contractors swooping up immigrant workers—many of them lacking legal status—for cleanup and rebuilding following natural disasters is one of the worst kept secrets in America. It’s been done with the consent of the federal government, which apparently recognizes their value but still won’t legalize them.
NBC News reported in 2015 that following the Hurricane Katrina disaster, worker shortages led the Bush administration to “temporarily suspended immigration regulations that required employers to verify the immigration status of people who worked for them. In doing so, it allowed federal contractors to hire undocumented workers to help meet the demand.”
In Louisiana, a quarter of workers were undocumented, researchers from Tulane University and the University of California at Berkeley said. Undocumented workers also went to Texas after Harvey, and countless other disaster areas to carry out the “hardest, most dangerous, and most necessary cleanup work,” American Immigration Council Policy Director Aaron Reichlin-Melnick tweeted.
“Lorenzo, a 67-year-old from Mexico, is adept at elevating and moving houses to higher ground, and keeps pictures on his cellphone to prove it—mansions he rescued in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Houston,” The New York Times reported in 2019. So essential were immigrant workers to New Orleans’ recovery in particular, that a statue honoring Latino workers was erected in their honor.
But this lack of legal status also leaves migrants particularly vulnerable to unscrupulous actors, who have screwed them out of their wages. NBC News’ report details Alvarado, who’d left Texas to find work in Louisiana following Katrina. He quickly found a job cleaning various buildings, and was then recruited to help remodel a house in New Orleans. But after completing the project, the contractor disappeared with no intention of paying him and other workers thousands of dollars in wages.
“’We called him when we were done with the house, but he didn’t answer,’ Alvarado said, adding that they later learned the contractor had left to Texas and had no intention of paying them,” the report said. “He ended up owing us a total of $12,000 for the work that we did for about a month.” Alvarado told NBC News that other workers had been recruited off the street by contractors who made promises about good wages, only to them refuse to pay them and threaten them with deportation.
“By the end of the week, after they had done all the work, the contractors wouldn’t pay them and threatened to call the police or immigration,” Alvarado continued. The report mentions the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice, which has done critical work to protect the rights of day workers and other laborers.
In the present day, Venezuelan migrants in New York City say recruiters promise $15 an hour, overtime pay, and $15 per day for food, The New York Post said. Vans were there to pick them up, with one driver saying he was contracted by a water and debris company but giving little other information. “I’m taking these people in the van straight to Florida tonight,” he said in the report. “I don’t know how many people have left or how many more vans are coming.” These workers will continue this tradition in aiding our recovery. Ron Desantis, in all his anti-immigrant blustering, knows it damn well too. But he will just look the other way.
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