NEW ORLEANS -- The population of undocumented workers in Louisiana is estimated to be around 65,000 according to the Pew Research Center's Hispanic Trends Project. Angela Castro is one of those 65,000.
Castro came to New Orleans from Honduras shortly after Hurricane Katrina when opportunities for work were ripe and plentiful. She's since had two children. Castro says she and many undocumented immigrants often avoid attention. On Thursday, they sought it.
"We're all human beings. We have the right to remain in this country. In my country it's very poor. I came here to work, and this is where my children can have a future," said Castro.
Statements like that are divisive, but it was repeated loudly and many times during a protest near New Orleans City Hall. Organized by the Congress of Day Laborers at the New Orleans Workers' Center For Racial Justice, the protesters say they gathered to bring attention to what they call unjust immigration raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
"It's racial profiling against Latinos. We're calling on the Obama administration and local ICE leadership here in New Orleans to stop the use this program essentially to a Constitution free zone where people can be pulled over, handcuffed and the fingerprinted," said Saket Soni, executive director of the Congress of Day Laborers at the New Orleans Workers' Center For Racial Justice.
The protest group of more than 100 first marched to ICE's local office on Poydras Street. Wearing t-shirts that said, "No Papers, No Fear," they staged a sit in at the office's main entrance. Eventually the protest moved to the intersection of Poydras Street and Loyola Avenue, where the sit-in froze mid-traffic.
For more than an hour, the intersection was impassable. Drivers were confused and frustrated. One taxi driver shared voiced his opinion about the undocumented workers' approach."You know, my mom and dad came to this country and did it the right way. A lot of people want to come to this country. What they're doing isn't the right way. In other countries they'd be arrested," said Jose Carrion.
NOPD's SWAT team eventually arrived to arrest more than a dozen of the protesters sitting in the street. It's what the organizers and the participating undocumented workers wanted. They were in handcuffs, but in the shadows no longer.
According to ICE, 409,849 individuals were removed from the U.S. last year. Of those, 225,390, approximately 55 percent, were convicted of felonies or misdemeanors. The New Orleans ICE office, which includes Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee, removed 14,167 illegal aliens during the same time period.
Bryan Cox, a public affairs officer for ICE's New Orleans office, issued the following statement:
"ICE is focused on smart, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens, recent border crossers and egregious immigration law violators, such as those who have been previously removed from the United States. ICE does not conduct sweeps or raids to target undocumented immigrants indiscriminately.
In order to better prioritize the agency’s limited resources on targeting criminals aliens and those that put public safety at risk, ICE has issued guidance for ICE law enforcement personnel and attorneys regarding their authority to exercise discretion when appropriate. The directive clearly states that the exercise of discretion is inappropriate in cases involving threats to public safety, national security and other agency priorities. This guidance also directs the exercise of prosecutorial discretion to ensure that victims of and witnesses to crimes are properly protected.”