By: Hiroko Kusuda, Helen Chen, and James Porter
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Southeast Louisiana ravaging parishes, towns, and cities across the Gulf Coast. When the levees broke that protected the city of New Orleans from the surrounding waterways, 80% of the city wound up under water. The city has begun to rebound with the population at 90% of its pre-Katrina numbers. This year, CLINIC had its annual convening in downtown New Orleans, and it was a major success.
However, there is still a lot to be done in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region as a whole. Immigrants in the region, including those in detention, continue to face hardships. As of 2009, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) holds approximately 37,000 immigrants each night in jail-like immigration detention centers across the U.S. on any given day. Louisiana, known as the top “receiving state” in the nation, continues to have one of the nation’s highest concentrations of immigration detainees. Today, Louisiana houses over 1,200 immigration detainees in several large-scale detention centers.
Service to the immigration detainee population continues to be difficult in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Detainees, who prior to Hurricane Katrina were housed near New Orleans, are now detained in other parts of Louisiana. Few members of Louisiana’s private Bar are readily able to assist indigent and low-income immigration detainees because of the specialized nature of deportation law and the great distance between Louisiana’s major legal centers and the facilities holding detainees.
Like the balance of Louisiana’s population, immigrant communities were hard-hit by Hurricane Katrina. According to estimates by the Department of Homeland Security and the Pew Hispanic Center, up to 100,000 foreign-born people (including naturalized U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, and undocumented immigrants) were directly affected by Hurricane Katrina. However, the devastation provided opportunity for some non-citizens, who came to New Orleans for temporary recovery and construction employment in the period following the disaster.
New opportunities for immigrants have come with a cost. Immigration enforcement activities have increased throughout Louisiana since immigrant workers began arriving in significant numbers in late 2005. Undocumented workers face arrest by ICE in homes and workplaces. They increasingly are identified by ICE through its “Secure Communities Initiative” in state and local jails and prisons.
In response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network and five diocesan immigration programs in Louisiana and Mississippi formed a consortia project to provide a comprehensive response to the needs of returning and newly arriving immigrants in the Gulf Coast region. The participating immigration programs include Catholic Charities of New Orleans; Catholic Charities Diocese of Baton Rouge; Migration and Refugee Services of Lafayette; Catholic Charities, Inc. of Jackson; and Catholic Social and Community Services of Biloxi. The project, funded by Catholic Charities USA has helped increase the number of immigration attorneys and Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) accredited representatives in the five diocesan immigration programs. It has helped expanded the programs resources to confront issues of immigration, labor, housing, and criminal law that impact the local immigrant population in the affected areas.
CLINIC helps support the immigration programs through funding, administrative and legal oversight through a dedicated local attorney and field support coordinator, legal and program management trainings and support. The collaboration of the various agencies has helped over 16,000 immigrants since the project’s implementation in October 2006. As a result, immigrant families were reunited and lives were rebuilt in the region.
Hiroko Kusuda is a Clinical Professor of the Immigration Law Section of Loyola Law Clinic & Center for Social Justice.
Helen Chen is a Field Support Coordinator at CLINIC.
James Porter is a Project Assistant in the Advancement, Marketing, and Communications Department at CLINIC.
Photo Credit: James Porter