The clean up after Hurricane Sandy’s devastation of the East coast means thousands of construction workers migrating east to help rebuild households, schools, buildings, and roads. Undocumented workers will undoubtedly be among the groups of people helping rebuild the Eastern coast.
With a look at the statistics taken from the relief project post Hurricane Katrina, the East will most likely see an increase in the immigrantpopulation. The new question that policymakers are asking is what is to be done with them. After all, there are over 11 million undocumented workers in this country. Prior to the hurricane in 2005, the immigrant population in New Orleans was relatively small. “A year later 45 percent of the city’s construction workers were Latino, and 54 percent of those were unauthorized.” Given the statistics that one-in-five construction workers are unauthorized immigrants, clearly immigrants will play an important role in rebuilding the East. Despite these immigrants working tirelessly alongside the rest of the construction workers, many fear that immigrants will be subject to unfair treatment and lower than average wages. With so much damage and demand for employees, there will be less regulation and staff available to monitor job sites to catch these illegal activities happening.
There are a few things that can be done to protect immigrants from being mistreated. It is recommended that the federal government create an expedited process of issuing work authorizations in federally declared disaster zones, employer accountability and enforcement of regulations should be strengthened, federal immigration and enforcement of labor protections should be separate, and public authorities should increase access to healthcare for undocumented workers. While having these regulations implemented would happen in an ideal situation, the government may not have time to do so in the little time there is with cleanup from Hurricane Sandy already started. However this is a reoccurring situation that has developed media attention and should be settled for future cases.
No matter whether there are laws that permit undocumented workers to be in the U.S. or not, no one can deny that America needs their help. Their contributions should be acknowledged and their labor rights protected just as any other cemployee. Hopefully with urging from representatives, policymakers, and interest groups, Congress will decide to take a stand and understand that families who have lost everything in a natural disaster do not care if their house is rebuilt by a U.S. citizen or an undocumented worker. They are grateful for any help they are given. If you have questions regarding immigration issues or acquiring a work visa, contact us at 314-961-8200.