Hispanic workers who went to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to do hurricane recovery work after Katrina report that their employers sometimes disappear without paying them, that they sometimes have to wait a long time for a complex web of contractors to pay them, that their paychecks are sometimes smaller than promised, or that those paychecks never arrive at all.
Though the contractors are violating federal law, many of the workers do not know their rights, and they cannot afford attorneys. Mississippi, for some reason, does not have a department of labor, and nonpayment for work is not classified as a crime in the state. Because they have little or no money, Mississippi’s Hispanic immigrant workers are living in tent cities which provide minimal protection from the elements, and now that the weather is getting cold, they are in trouble.
According to state representative Jim Evans, the problem is not a new one in Mississippi–Katrina recovery has just magnified it. Evans wants the state attorney general to enforce laws that are already on the books–it is a crime to commit fraud and a crime to hire someone under false pretenses in Mississippi. Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights group, was in Gulfport Friday, investigating the workers’ claims. She was joined by members of the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance.