For Immediate Release
IWJ Condemns Targeting of Immigrant Workers in BP Oil Spill
Priorities Should be Worker Safety and Cleaning Up the Mess
WASHINGTON - Interfaith Worker Justice, the
nation’s largest religious advocacy network for the rights of low-wage workers,
expressed utter incomprehension over the checkpoints and harassment to
which workers cleaning up BP’s Gulf Coast oil disaster are being subjected.
“As we scramble to contain the biggest environmental catastrophe
in U.S. history, and send workers into harm’s way to do the dirty work (10
were recently hospitalized after reporting dizziness, nausea and difficulty
breathing), why do the very people whose labors are so urgently needed and
whose safety hangs in the balance find themselves under investigation over
their immigration status?” said Danny Postel, Communications Coordinator for
“In biblical times, the righteous and the poor were anointed with
oil,” said Keron Blair, Director of New Orleans Interfaith Worker Justice
Center. “Oil was for cleansing and healing. It was a blessing. But today, BP
has cursed our waters with crude oil. And now ICE is aiding sheriffs in
cracking down on allegedly criminal immigrant ‘enterprises’. We need to cleanse
our minds of such evil distortions and distractions,” Blair continued. “The government
must see to the stoppage of the flowing oil and ensure that the Gulf waters are
cleaned. We need to protect the rights of workers who are carrying out the
clean-up, make sure that their health and safety are protected and their full
wages are paid, and not stir up false prejudices. They are doing God’s work
here on earth.”
“If St. Bernard’s government officials would actually spend time
on public policy that was in line with real people’s priorities, then they
would be cleaning up the oil … in the Gulf of Mexico instead of scapegoating
immigrants in their own community,” Saket Soni, Executive Director of the New
Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice told the magazine Color
“Maybe we could give the clean up crews respirators and
[protective] gear rather threaten them with deportation?” as one
observer remarked. Instead, workers who have brought their own safety
equipment not provided by BP have been threatened
with termination, according to Louisiana Environmental Action Network.
IWJ strongly condemns these upside-down priorities in this time of
“The fear of crime in the Gulf Coast is perfectly legitimate,”
said Ted Smukler, IWJ’s Director of Public Policy. “But the perpetrators are
not the workers – they’re the employers who prey on them by stealing
their wages and failing to provide them with safety protections they need
to do this dangerous work, and are required to do by law.”
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has been repeatedly invoked by
local law enforcement officials, who are sounding alarm bells about criminal
threats to the Gulf Coast region. “[W]e don’t want it to happen again,” St.
Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack Stephens told Color Lines.
“We don’t want it to happen either,” said IWJ’s Smukler. “We don’t
want the widespread criminality that went on in post-Katrina reconstruction –
the shocking abuses of workers and the rampant violations of labor laws that
took place at that time.”
IWJ formed the Gulf Coast Commission on Reconstruction Equity to
monitor rebuilding contracts after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The
organization issued a series
of reports and Smukler testified before the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of
the U.S. House of Representatives (PDF).
“Let’s make sure that ugly chapter doesn’t repeat itself amidst
the current crisis,” said Smukler.
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