NEW ORLEANS -- Until the 2010 census numbers come out, we won't have an idea of how many Hispanic workers came to the city of New Orleans after Katrina. But many agencies like schools, the police department and the medical industry don't need to count to feel the impact and the need to adjust to their population.
The proof: Five years after Hurricane Katrina, the Esperanza School - that's Hope School in English – started to specifically cater to the children of new immigrants. And it only grows every year.
Carol Salazar is another 10-year-old girl who bought into the fleur de lis craze at her school. For her family, the Hurricane Katrina nightmare was a chance at the American dream.
Her mom, Maria Salazar, left her children for a year with other thousands of Hispanic workers who came to rebuild houses after Katrina.
She is one of the 12,000 people the New Orleans Catholic Hispanic Apostolate assisted while they worked on houses. And that’s when local officials realized the workers eventually brought their children, and they needed education.
“We realized there was a growing Hispanic population after the storm and there was a need for a school to cater to their needs,” said Stacy Barry, head of the Esperanza School.
The Esperanza School started in 2007, and this year it has about 400 kids. Eighty of them are children of Hispanic workers. Not all of them are legal, but all are accepted and by federal law are assigned temporary social security numbers.
“We can provide English language provider services and programs that would meet the needs of not only the students, but of their families as well,” Barry said.
They added programs like English Language Learner, and teachers realized that to teach English, sometimes you have to speak Spanglish.
“Mostly it's trying to make that transition into learning language without giving them this bad image of Spanish, because it still is their native language, and it's still an important part of their lives,” Wolfson said.
The Esperanza School has already celebrated the graduation of a class who came speaking virtually no English, and some who crossed over illegally.
Former student Alan Llanes, 15, said he doesn’t remember when he first came to New Orleans. He’s been taught not to say much about that day.
Yet his mom, Maria Elena, admits they came to work and have a better life.
“In the moment we did it, I didn't really think about it,” Elena said. “You do it because you need to risk a better life. I put my children in danger, but it was worth it.”
It's for this sense of fear that local officials may not know exactly how many illegal immigrants there are for their fear of being deported, but they say they will continue to adjust, to make room for those who crossed fences to build the broken ones in New Orleans.
“Our purpose is to educate,” Barry said. “And we want to provide a high quality education regardless of where you are coming from. The fact is that you're here now, and we want this to be one of the best educations available in this city.”
Supreme Court case Plyler vs. Doe allows the education of undocumented children, saying it's unconstitutional to deny it. The 2010 U.S. Census will also show how the population has changed in general. Those numbers will be handed to Congress by the end of the year.