Illegal aliens decided to stay in New Orleans and tough out the storm, rather than board buses and trains and risk arrest by immigration authorities.
Even though officials promised not to check their status if they evacuated, many illegals did not accept the offer before Gustav struck, the Associated Press reported.
Carlos Mendoza, a 21-year-old Honduran, stayed behind with seven other people in a small apartment.
“We know that people died during Katrina, but we had no choice but to stay here,” he told reporters. “Many stayed because of fear. I would say at least 50 percent of us.”
Mendoza said he and his illegal alien friends feared arrest and deportation.
There are an estimated 30,000 illegal aliens in New Orleans, according to the AP report. The city became a hot zone for illegal immigration after hurricane Katrina left parts of it in ruins in 2005. A massive reconstruction effort attracted men from Mexico and Central America.
Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Labor Organizing Network, told reporters the recent crackdown on illegal immigration has made many aliens uneasy about the risks of traveling – even when offered free rides by authorities during an emergency evacuation.
“Moving around has become very difficult for undocumented workers,” Alvarado said.
New Orleans officials accommodated illegal aliens who could not speak English by providing news releases in Spanish and Spanish-speaking operators on the city’s 3-1-1 hotline.
“Every action that we took in English, we tried to do in Spanish as well,” city spokesman James Ross said.
According to the report, a day labor organizer with the New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice, Jacinta Gonzalez, said Hispanic communities have been scarred by increasing immigration raids and did not evacuate.
She said illegals had complaints about the 3-1-1 line because they were forced to wait for 30 minutes before they could talk to someone who spoke Spanish.
When they were told they would have to register to board the buses and trains, they grew more apprehensive. The procedure included ID wristbands to track evacuees by computer. Gonzalez said the officials didn’t do enough to guarantee illegal aliens that they wouldn’t be deported.
“The government didn’t give people assurances that they would be returned to New Orleans,” she said. “Just sending out press releases the day before the evacuation isn’t going to work.”
Honduran Santiago Gradiz, 61, accepted a ride to Houston with other illegal aliens. He told the AP they left early to avoid immigration checkpoints.
Gradiz and 10 friends have taken shelter in a one-bedroom apartment until they think it is safe to return. He said they are waiting for extra police and soldiers to leave New Orleans.
“Luckily I had some money from working the day before moving furniture,” and was able to help pay costs of the trip, he told the AP.
Illegal alien Jose Gordillo, 50, said he and his sons braved the storm in their rental home.
“It’s been a few weeks since we got work, so we didn’t have the money to leave,” Gordillo said. “I felt a little panicked during the storm, but with God’s help we made it.”