Latinos in Metro New Orleans: Progress, Problems, and Potential

Lucas Diaz  (Tulane University) Elizabeth Fussell  (Brown University)

Published: Jul 01, 2015

Hurricane Katrina and the flooding caused by the levee failure on August 29, 2005 precipitated the arrival of new Latino immigrants in New Orleans. These immigrants sought opportunities in New Orleans and provided labor needed to clean and rebuild the damaged city. However, the immigrants received a mixed reception; while their labor was urgently needed and welcomed, displaced residents, especially those in the low-skill labor force, feared that the newcomers would fill jobs and occupy low-cost housing New Orleanians needed to return home.

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This ambivalence created a dilemma for the state, municipalities, and residents: How should they receive the Latino immigrant newcomers, many of whom were present in the U.S. without authorization?

This dilemma mirrors the ongoing national debate over comprehensive immigration reform, which asks: Should we welcome or discourage settlement by the immigrants who work and live in our communities without authorization? Since the 1960s, an unauthorized immigrant population has been tolerated in the U.S. because of steady demand for the low-wage labor they provide, especially in agriculture, construction, food processing, and low-skill service sectors of the economy. This tolerance of unauthorized immigration is countered by those who seek to control and restrict immigration, especially unauthorized immigration. States and localities have filled this policy void with pro- and anti-immigrant laws and ordinances. For example, some states issue driver’s licenses without requiring evidence of citizenship or immigration status, a pro-immigrant policy. In contrast, some states and localities seek to charge law enforcement officers with determining a detained persons’ legal status, an anti-immigrant policy. New Orleans’ local policy context for unauthorized immigrants changed dramatically over the last 10 years, but to date no one has assessed these policies.

In this essay we measure change in the Latino population of New Orleans, examine policies that have affected the recently arrived and often unauthorized Latino immigrant population, and provide recommendations for policies that can be implemented at the local and regional levels that support the integration of this growing population and ultimately improve the resiliency of the increasingly diverse New Orleans community.

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Citations and sources can be found in the PDF copy of the report.