By Alberto Jacinto – Intern of Research and Evaluation
From 2000 to 2012, the Latin@ population in Louisiana rose an astounding 85.5%. A considerable proportion of this population is relatively young, with the average age being 29 years and just over a quarter of the population (28%) being under 18 years old.
Though Latin@s constitute only 4.5% of the total state population, this group has played an integral part in Louisiana’s history. Oftentimes, this contribution remains untold. Hondureñ@s, for example, began migrating to Louisiana in the early 1900s to work for the United Fruit Company. Although there were groups of “working class” people who migrated, there were also rich families who shipped their children to Louisiana in order to attend Catholic school. These early Latin@ settlers didn’t come together in Hispanic neighborhoods. Instead, they established themselves in mixed neighborhoods, which led to their assimilation with other groups.
Although Latin@s in Louisiana may have slightly more economic power than Latin@s in other Deep South states, they still face social exclusion. Issues pertaining to immigration prevent undocumented Latin@s from having access to many of the things Latin@s and non-Latin@s with documents take for granted.
Politicians in Louisiana have pursued a number of anti-immigrant policies. One such policy, HB 1205, took Arizona’s SB 1070 – more commonly known as the “Show me your Papers” law – even further. Under this proposed legislation, individuals 14 years of age or older would be required to produce documents in order to receive any kind of services. Another program that promoted racial profiling was “Secure Communities,” which was put on by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. This program, which aimed to reduce crime, crosschecked arrested individuals with various immigration databases. Although Louisiana’s HB 1205 never became law and President Obama officially ended Secure Communities, Latin@s in Louisiana, especially undocumented individuals, are constantly reminded that their physical appearance or accent (at times imagined) can be a source of prejudice for others.
Despite all this, Latin@s have continued to contribute to their local communities. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Latin@ immigrants played a key role in rebuilding New Orleans. It is important to note here that more should be said about why these people played such a key role in the city’s reconstruction. They were helping rebuild the city they adopted as their own. It is for this reason why I believe they should be viewed as more than just bodies doing physical labor. They are comparable to any other group of residents who would rebuild their homes after a storm. After Hurricane Katrina, settling patterns were altered. Latin@ neighborhoods, few and far in between, began to arise.
Another way in which immigration affects undocumented immigrants in Louisiana is through their inability to access banking and healthcare services. Because the banking system requires documents, Latin@s had no other choice but to carry their money with them wherever they went. As a result, Latin@s are at times targeted for robbery and assault because people know they tend to carry large amounts of money with them. Undocumented Latin@s may also no longer be able to access healthcare services if Governor Jindal’s plan to privatize Charity Hospitals succeeds. Up until this legislation, undocumented immigrants could seek treatment at these hospitals. Although the decision is still up in the air, the health and wellbeing of undocumented immigrants in Louisiana remains uncertain.
In summary, Latin@s are a population on the rise in Louisiana. Many are young, second- and third-generation Americans. Though some families recently migrated Louisiana, they have made it their home in a short matter of time. Though they face numerous structural barriers in some ways that other groups don’t, they persist. And though Latin@s live in a society where immigration status is a salient topic in their minds, they thrive.