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The Coast Guard today reported the death of two workers helping to clean up the spill in the Gulf. Cleaning up the oil is grueling, sometimes dangerous work. In Louisiana, these jobs are drawing immigrant workers into small communities. And they're not always getting a warm welcome. Annie Correal is a reporter with the Spanish-language newspaper El Diario. She reports from the town of Hopedale.
JEB SHARP: The Coast Guard today reported the death of two workers helping to clean up the spill in the Gulf. Cleaning up the oil is grueling, sometimes dangerous work. In Louisiana these jobs are drawing immigrant workers into small communities and they are not always getting a warm welcome. Annie Correal is a reporter with the Spanish-language newspaper, El Diario. She sent us this report from the town of Hopedale.
ANNIE CORREAL: Workers pass bulging plastic bags down a line onto a fishing boat. The bags are filled with heavy tubes of absorbent cloth. They'll be used to soak up the oil that's slowly drifting toward the marshes. These workers arrived in late April, a week after the oil began spewing in the Gulf. They've been at it 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week. Most of them are women from the Dominican Republic, like Elena de la Cruz, a 30-year-old mother of three. Elena and her husband came here four years ago after Hurricane Katrina because they heard there were jobs. They left two of their three children behind in the Dominican Republic. Elena has worked as a day laborer. She's removed debris and done construction. She's even worked on other oil spills before the BP Deepwater Horizon spill. She says its hard work but she and the others throw themselves into it because they need the money. They earn $12.00 an hour plus overtime and a daily allowance. She says its men's work, but women can do it too. Elena lives with her family in Bridge City, just outside New Orleans. It's home to many Latino immigrants who have come since Katrina. But for the past month or so, Elena has been staying at a Best Western Motel closer to the Hopedale clean up site. She shares a room with her younger sister Amelia. At night they do their laundry and turn up the air conditioning. They turn on the news and Elena rubs lotion on her mosquito bites. Despite the insects and the heat, she says she enjoys the job and she's happy she can send money back to her family. But not everyone is happy about the presence of Elena and her fellow immigrant workers. In early May, U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, or ICE, paid a visit to the Hopedale site. Four men arrived in unmarked cars. They weren't wearing uniforms. Elena says they were handsome, so the women were checking them out. But when they heard the men were from Immigration, the mood changed. She says the agents asked for ID's but they didn't put pressure on anybody. They just said, hello we're from Immigration, this is a routine check, no need to be afraid. Everyone there had papers, so no one was taken away, but Immigration came the next two days and they weren't routine checks. Elena is stunned to learn the local Sheriff called the authorities after seeing workers arrive in buses. Why, she says. Are they racists? Elena says, we're Latinos, but we're here legally. She adds, they should investigate before they go and scare you like that. The Sheriff, Jack Stephens, declined to be interviewed but he issued a written statement. He asked ICE to visit as part of an overall effort to prevent illegal aliens with criminal records from coming into the parish. He went on to say, we're not worried about people who want to earn an honest buck. But locals tell me their main concern is that they'll lose clean up jobs to immigrants who will work for less. Elena says that poor Latino immigrants are more willing to do the dirty work of cleaning up oil. She says they don't complain, they go out and get it done. But she says on this spill there's plenty of work to go around. For The World, I'm Annie Correal, Hopedale, Louisiana.
SHARP: Annie Correal's report comes to us through Feet in Two Worlds, a project that brings the work of immigrant journalists to public radio.