Tuesday, August 07, 2007

FEMA: A visit to New Orleans

This is my first visit to New Orleans. I've long been a huge fan of Tennessee Williams, so I had often wanted to visit here, but it was never one of my first vacation priorities. Katrina changed that, along with just about everything else about New Orleans. My husband and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary in a few days, so we decided that New Orleans would be a great place to get away for a few days.

In the aftermath of the hurricane, thousands of immigrants came to the city to find work in the clean-up effort. When locals decried using immigrants, many of whom were undocumented and thus being paid lower wages, the Federal Government decided to pay the recovery crews union wages. This, it was believed, would discourage employers from hiring undocumented workers.

But it did not work. As with so many instances in the debate on undocumented immigration, things are often more complicated that they first appear, or that we believe they should be. It turns out that the employers preferred the undocumented, the majority were Mexicans, and continued to hire them and then pay them higher wages.

The first night here in town Ken and I passed a t-shirt shop with a number of post-Katrina themed shirts, emblazoned with sayings like:

"FEMA Evacuation Plan: Run Bitch, Run"

and my personal favorite:

"FEMA (Find Every Mexican Available)"

I am happy to report that New Orleans is still a lovely place, and exceedingly interesting. I'm in the French Quarter and I have not seen too many Mexicans or Latinos here, but there is still plenty of charm.