Danny Postel | Communications Coordinator, Interfaith Worker Justice
773-728-8400 x24 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Keron Blair | Director, New Orleans Interfaith Worker Justice Center
202-285-2567 [cell] | email@example.com
IWJ Condemns Targeting of Immigrant Workers in BP Oil Spill
Priorities Should be Worker Safety and Cleaning Up the Mess
Interfaith Worker Justice, the nation’s largest religious advocacy network for the rights of
low-wage workers, expressed utter incomprehension over the checkpoints and harassment
to which workers cleaning up BP’s Gulf Coast oil disaster are being subjected.
“As we scramble to contain the biggest environmental catastrophe in U.S. history, and send
workers into harm’s way to do the dirty work (10 were recently hospitalized after reporting
dizziness, nausea and difficulty breathing), why do the very people whose labors are so
urgently needed and whose safety hangs in the balance find themselves under investigation
over their immigration status?” said Danny Postel, Communications Coordinator for IWJ.
“In biblical times, the righteous and the poor were anointed with oil,” said Keron Blair,
Director of New Orleans Interfaith Worker Justice Center. “Oil was for cleansing and healing.
It was a blessing. But today, BP has cursed our waters with crude oil. And now ICE is
aiding sheriffs in cracking down on allegedly criminal immigrant ‘enterprises’. We need to
cleanse our minds of such evil distortions and distractions,” Blair continued. “The
government must see to the stoppage of the flowing oil and ensure that the Gulf waters are
cleaned. We need to protect the rights of workers who are carrying out the clean-up, make
sure that their health and safety are protected and their full wages are paid, and not stir up
false prejudices. They are doing God’s work here on earth.”
“If St. Bernard’s government officials would actually spend time on public policy that was in
line with real people’s priorities, then they would be cleaning up the oil … in the Gulf of
Mexico instead of scapegoating immigrants in their own community,” Saket Soni, Executive
Director of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice told the magazine Color Lines.
“Maybe we could give the clean up crews respirators and [protective] gear rather threaten
them with deportation?” as one observer remarked. Instead, workers who have brought
their own safety equipment not provided by BP have been threatened with termination,
according to Louisiana Environmental Action Network.
IWJ strongly condemns these upside-down priorities in this time of national crisis.
“The fear of crime in the Gulf Coast is perfectly legitimate,” said Ted Smukler, IWJ’s
Director of Public Policy. “But the perpetrators are not the workers – they’re the employers
who prey on them by stealing their wages and failing to provide them with safety
protections they need to do this dangerous work, and are required to do by law.”
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has been repeatedly invoked by local law enforcement
officials, who are sounding alarm bells about criminal threats to the Gulf Coast region. “[W]
e don’t want it to happen again,” St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack Stephens told Color Lines.
“We don’t want it to happen either,” said IWJ’s Smukler. “We don’t want the widespread
criminality that went on in post-Katrina reconstruction – the shocking abuses of workers
and the rampant violations of labor laws that took place at that time.”
IWJ formed the Gulf Coast Commission on Reconstruction Equity to monitor rebuilding
contracts after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The organization issued a series of
reports and Smukler testified before the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the U.S. House of
“Let’s make sure that ugly chapter doesn’t repeat itself amidst the current crisis,” said