Latinos Help Clean Up Oil Spill

Latinos Help Clean Up Oil Spill

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NEW ORLEANS — As oil escapes from the depths of the Gulf of Mexico and washes up on the coasts of Louisiana, hundreds of Latinos are working hard on the clean-up efforts.

Among them are 40 women. They are part of a group of 500 people who are preparing the dam near Hopedale, two hours from New Orleans, for the arrival of the oil slick. These 40 workers are employees of the subcontractor Tamara’s Group, which was contracted by the company Oil Mop.

The owner of Tamara’s Group is Martha Mosquera, a Colombian from Huila. “It’s sad, but they’re happy because there’s work,” says Mosquera. In addition to the costs of accomodation, the contractor pays them $12 and hour and gives them $30 to cover their travel and hotel.

For this wage, the women have been working 12 hours a day four weeks in a row, unloading oil containment barriers, or "boom," from trailers. The boom serves as a protective barrier around the marshland to protect it from the waves of crude oil.

"I was in the boat to unload boom and that was where I saw three dead animals. A dolphin, a shark and dead fish," says Carmen Garcia, a 47-year-old Salvadoran worker. "It's very ugly, very ugly," Garcia repeats as she rests at her hotel after weeks of hard work.

The spill in the Gulf of Mexico is the worst in U.S. history. The broken pipe is irrigating nearly 20,000 barrels of crude oil per day. Since it began on April 20, after the explosion of BP’s "Deepwater Horizon" platform, the oil slick has reached several parts of the Louisiana shoreline.

Mosquera has recruited more than 160 people to work on cleaning up the coast so far. She estimates that 90 percent of her employees are Latino. They each get 40 hours of training on how to handle toxic materials and are given their own protective equipment.

Many Latinos who are part of the clean-up effort came to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to help rebuild the city. But unlike during the aftermath of Katrina, contractors are now demanding that all workers be legal immigrants. "In our contract, all the workers have to have papers," says Mosquera.

According to Mosquera, during the first few days after workers arrived in Hopedale, there was an ICE raid. "They took people from another company," she said.

There are rumors that some contractors are offering cleaning jobs to undocumented immigrants, but they could not be confirmed by this newspaper. Several people interviewed said subcontractors have come to their churches, both in New Orleans and in the suburbs, where many Latinos live, demanding to see papers proving the workers’ legal status.

“They want everyone who has papers,” says Mauro Alfonso, a 50-year-old Mexican who goes to the Christian Pentecostal Church in New Orleans. This is one of the churches where oil company subcontractors came to ask for help with the clean up.

One of the workers who moved here is a Honduran who traveled with his wife and a friend from Indiana to register with the company Tamara’s Group. "I worked for 12 years looking for oil. Now we are going to clean it up," says Enrique Moradel, 65.

Meanwhile, each day, more and more legal workers from other states are coming to Louisiana, looking for a job and escaping the economic crisis that is now affecting the country.