Hispanic City, Mississippi: Between Jobs & Threats

Hispanic City, Mississippi: Between Jobs & Threats

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Editor's Note: Marcello Ballve's reporting series on Latino population growth across the country is a collaboration between New America Media and impreMedia's "The Future is Now" project about the U.S. census.

LAUREL, Mississippi - Residents of this small town know it as "Hispanic City."

It is a collection of trailer parks and brightly painted rental apartments on the edge of town.

Hispanic City's residents are overwhelmingly Mexican and Central American immigrants— among the thousands who have come to Mississippi in recent years in search of jobs. They found them— at nearby poultry plants, assembly lines and pine plantations.

Silverio Atriano, who has lived in Laurel for 9 years, is one of those who have followed jobs to Mississippi. He has been relatively lucky since arriving here. Since he arrived in September 2002 he has never been without a job or a paycheck.

Atriano's path to Laurel began in Texas, in 2002. That year, Atriano, who lived in Mexico, was shopping in the border city of McCallen, Texas, and came across an advertisement that offered jobs at a poultry plant in Mississippi, with transportation and two weeks rent given free to those workers willing to make the trip.

"They always need people here, Hispanic labor," he said.

He accepted the offer, and ended up at a poultry processing facility near Laurel. In 2005, he quit poultry processing and landed a higher-paying job at a Howard Industries electronics plant near Hispanic City.

Atriano, a 48-year-old man who lives alone, is like many of the Mexican immigrants in Mississippi, who work for their families in Mexico or elsewhere, yet return south rarely, if at all.

Atriano knows that life for Hispanics in Mississippi is never free of threats. On August 25, 2008, he witnessed the massive Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sweep at the Howard Industries transformer plant where he works, less than a mile away. On that day, ICE agents swept into the plant and arrested 592 workers.

"Some people started running, they tried to hide," said Atriano. "There was a helicopter flying overhead."

Undocumented immigrants— some of them heads of family— were whisked into deportation proceedings.

"I felt bad for them," said Atriano. "They weren't doing anything wrong. I know what it's like to not have papers."

Atriano, who operates a crane with a metal hook to remove defective electrical transformers from the assembly line, was himself handcuffed until he was able to produce his green card, and prove his status as a legal U.S. resident.

With 592 arrests, it is believed the immigration raid on Howard Industries was the largest single-site workplace in U.S. history. The raid upended the lives of hundreds of immigrant families, and showed the extent to which Laurel, Mississippi relied on immigrant labor. However, unlike, the 45,000 undocumented immigrants estimated by the Pew Hispanic Center to be living in Mississippi in 2010, Atriano has the advantage of legal residence.

"I'm not afraid of anything, I feel calm," he said. "Although I don't know much English, because I have papers, I feel like the doors are open for me."



Posted Sep 10 2011

Marcello Ballve's sole interest in Hispanic labor rights never waivers; meanwhile what about the under employed & unemployed citizens of Mississippi? The are irrelevant now right? 45,000 "undocumented" in Mississippi alone...just great. Like American's even matter anymore....great yellow journalism...as usual. Also, how many 100's of thousands of $$$$ which are sent out of my country by these 45,000? 10's of Million annually?--that must really be a boon to Laurel and other towns in Mississippi....you know, which could otherwise be paying for infrastructure, education etc.

Short-sighted, insular and described as victims of their circumstances....Personally I would rather see citizen's , including Atriano (why no Ingles yet, buddy?) be hired exclusively in OUR job marketplace. Marcelo, you forgot to mention impact on the majority of citizens there in your "story" -as usual. As in poor rural AMERICAN CITIZENS....the ones hat don't have jobs.

Atriano states, "They always need people here, Hispanic labor," This is incredulous propaganda, Sr. Ballve. Explain how this is true? Also, what type of potential citizen is this character, Atriano? How did he get "papers". His statement about the reality of employment in Mississippi is teaming with racism and ignorance.


Posted Sep 11 2011

Let us analyze this situation realistically, step by step: (1) Why have these kind of jobs been available to the undocumented for so many years? Could it be that they are dangerous, such as cutting up chicken definitely is, and who wants to clean them in a not-too healthy environment? Apparently, not too many persons for the pay that is offered. Otherwise, these jobs would not be vacant over a long period of time, would they? There would not be such an attractive offer, like having your way paid from Texas to Mississippi and two weeks rent provided to boot. (2) We claim to be a capitalistically oriented country, so if there is more demand and available supply, what is wrong with that in a "right to work" state? (3) As for money being sent back home for one's family, do not we Americans send money across state lines all over the country? Of course, much of that money stays right there in Laurel and throughout the same state of MS. Do not legal immigrants do similar things? Let us remember the same applies throughout America for the estimated 11 MILLION undocumented. Why are we not ready for a national program, which deals with reality, gives people legal jobs, with whatever restrictions necessary, and allows them to live like free human beings? (4) As for learning English, when one is busy working long hours or caring for children all day, there is not a lot of energy to go to night school, especially if there is a "straw boss" also employed, to communicate with those who do not yet speak that much English. (5) Do American citizens REALLY want to ship more jobs outside the country or pay considerably more for what they purchase here?

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