Saturday, June 15, 2024

Hispanic Day Laborers are Targets in New Orleans

The men rebuilding New Orleans more than three years after Hurricane Katrina are from Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala, but on the street they are known as ideal victims for robbers preying cash. Their pockets are filled with bills, and due to language barriers and their status as illegal immigrants, they have become the prime targets in one of America’s most crime-ridden cities.

Geovanny Billado, a worker from Honduras, spoke of one incident in which “they waited to punch me”and”one of them stabs me with a knife.” It was four against one, Mr. Billado said, and he lost the $350 he had earned; another time, it was seven against one.

Unarmed Hispanic workers are regularly mugged, beaten, chased, stabbed or shot, the police admit. The abandoned homes that many stay in over night are often broken into. They are shot when, not understanding a mugger’s menacing command, they fail to hand over their cash quickly enough, shot while they are working on houses, and shot when they go home for the day. Some have been killed, their bodies flown home to families who had been depending on their remittances for survival.

News reports suggest that at least a half-dozen Hispanic workers have been shot and killed in the New Orleans metropolitan area since Hurricane Katrina, though the police say they have no idea precise numbers. The incidents are common, and yet many of these incidents go unreported due to the illegal status of many of the victims.

Roger Cruz, from Honduras, said, “A lot of people don’t know how to defend themselves. There’s racism of blacks against Latinos.”

It is not exactly racial prejudice that makes the Hispanic laborers the target of choice, said the Rev. John C. Raphael Jr., a black former New Orleans police officer and now a minister who has led anticrime rallies here.

“I think it’s not directly racial,” Mr. Raphael said, but rather “the fact that they were vulnerable, they were taken advantage of.”

Mr. Raphael, one of the most prominent leaders in the anticrime movement in New Orleans, calls the widespread crime against Hispanic workers a “tremendous tragedy.”

Janssen Valencia, a police officer who acts as an interpreter and occasionally as a radio counselor for Hispanic laborers here, urges them to hide their money and vary their walking patterns home.

“It’s very sad that they’re here helping us rebuild, yet you have an element that’s targeting them,” Officer Valencia said. “They work all week. Then comes the weekend, they get robbed.”

New York Times