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Why Hurricanes Hit Immigrants Hardest

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Why Hurricanes Hit Immigrants Hardest

"Allison. Rita. Katrina. Ike. After each storm, Eduardo and his fellow workers showed up. They hauled off soggy furniture, demolished flood-damaged homes, and helped put disaster-struck cities in Texas and Louisiana back together, piece by piece.

Eduardo, 63, came to the U.S. from Mexico in 2001 to find work—he wanted to be able to afford an education for his two children back in Mexico City. (Because of his immigration status, CityLab has changed his name.) He settled in Houston and found plenty of jobs doing manual labor in this booming metro. Last year, when Hurricane Harvey brought his town to its knees, he saw a chance to help again.

Day laborers like Eduardo are often called “second responders”—workers who’re recruited by homeowners, private businesses, and contractors to remove debris, clean, and rebuild after disasters. These workers—many of whom, like Eduardo, are undocumented—offer their services despite the fears about the Trump administration's crackdown on legal and undocumented immigrants.

While they’re wary of immigration authorities in this era of heightened enforcement, that has never stopped them. “The people I’ve had to work with in recovery projects—I don’t think they were showing fear,” Eduardo said in Spanish. “We talked about how things are scary, but what we show is that we want to help people recover from the storm. We were not scared of the storm, or the police, or ICE.”

Immigrants like Eduardo have played a central role in fueling Houston’s recent growth—and they’ve also been a big part of its recovery after Harvey, according to a new report by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a non-partisan D.C.-based think tank. Immigrant communities are concentrated in Harris County and rapidly growing in the suburbs surrounding it. They also make up a majority share of workers in the construction industry in Houston. Around a quarter of these workers are undocumented (although other estimates peg the undocumented share close to half)..."

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