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New Orleans Sees Rise in Latino Population

Years after Hurricane Katrina and subsequent flooding caused a mass evacuation of New Orleans, a growing population of Latinos is moving into the city. NewsHour correspondent Tom Bearden presents the latest report in a series on Katrina's two-year anniversary.

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  • TOM BEARDEN, NewsHour Correspondent:

    Every day, Hispanic men gather on this busy street corner, calling out to passing cars and trucks, hoping somebody will hire them for a day's labor. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, thousands of Latinos have come to New Orleans for work, and work they have found.

    Every construction site we visited had a majority of Hispanic workers; most earn somewhere between $6 and $12 an hour. Exact numbers are hard to come by, but by some estimates the Hispanic population in the area may have doubled or tripled, while the overall population has fallen by more than a third.

    Ed Blakely, the man in charge of the city's recovery effort, says the Latino population is vital to the success of rebuilding New Orleans.

    ED BLAKELY, New Orleans Office of Recovery Management: We have been bending over backwards to make sure our Hispanic population is treated well, even if they're undocumented people. So I think it's very important for us to incorporate those populations.

    When the work is over, a lot of them will go back home or go to other places. But right now, they're a very important workforce. They're good citizens. We don't have a lot of crime problems from them. And they're paying taxes like everyone else every time they buy something, so we want to treat them right.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    But many Hispanics say they haven't been treated right. They point to action taken against so-called taco trucks, mobile canteens serving Mexican-style food, often at construction sites. Last month, nearby Jefferson Parish voted to effectively ban the trucks from its streets, saying it was trying to clean up the "makeshift" conditions that sprang up after Katrina.

    Jose Rios came to New Orleans two months after the hurricane. He now owns a small restaurant in addition to a taco truck. He thinks the Jefferson Parish ordinance is an attempt to get rid of Hispanic people, not the trucks.

  • JOSE RIOS, New Orleans Resident:

    Before Katrina, they don't have many, many Hispanic communities. After Katrina, you now have more Hispanic people that come to the city. And some people, they don't like that. So I guess this is the reason they're trying to kick them out by the wheels, because they don't like to see many Hispanic people here in the city.