Friday- Immigrants rights group Congreso de Journaleros (Congress of Day Laborers) held a vigil in Kenner to demand an end to wage theft and police racial profiling. The meeting was attended by over 150 people, and was a mix of people from the immigrant community, and allies. There were anarchists, faith leaders and people proudly repping their union membership, as well as two lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild.
After receiving a permit from Kenner at the 11th hour, the vigil was held in a small park across the street from the house of a contractor who is accused of stealing over $700 in wages from two workers. One of the laborers, who will remain anonymous to protect his identity, spoke at the vigil. He described a pattern of abuse, saying that the contractor yelled at the workers and spoke to them as if they were children. After the contractor withheld their wages the worker threatened to sue him, and the contractor reported him to the police, saying that he had been threatened by the worker. The police came to the worker’s home and were extremely aggressive with him. After he was finally able to give a statement regarding the alleged wage theft, the Kenner police did not even file the report, until Congreso got involved in the case six days later.
“We are not seeking preferential treatment, we are asking to be treated equally,” said the worker.
Another speaker, María*, described how her husband was violently arrested by the Kenner police in June 2010, after the police pulled over the family as they were driving. María feels the stop was racially motivated. The offense (driving without a license) is not a criminal offense in Louisiana, and does not merit arrest under the law. Undocumented people can apply for driver’s licenses in Puerto Rico, DC and twelve states, however, undocumented people cannot obtain a license in Louisiana.
“We are not illegal, we are undocumented. We are all humans,” says María.
At the arrest, the police confiscated María’s license and registration, and forcefully arrested her husband in front of their young children. As María was new to Kenner, she did not know the location of the police station where her husband was being held. By the time she got to the police station, the police had already turned her husband in to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“Estaba desapericido,” said María (he was disappeared). This is the term used in several Latin American countries (Mexico, Argentina, Chile) where people are kidnapped, at the hands of the state or otherwise.
“The police are creating dysfunctional families,” she said
She later described how her son has had trouble in school since his father’s arrest.
“When they separate families, they are separating them forever, like in my case,” continued María.
Her husband was deported to Mexico, where he died trying to return to the US. He was found asphyxiated.
Another speaker, Rosalba*, described an incident where a drunk driver hit her car while she was driving with her child in the backseat.
“’Call the police,’ my daughter said. But I couldn’t call the police.”
Rosalba went to look at the driver, who was so drunk she was falling asleep at the wheel. But Rosalba couldn’t involve the police though she knew that the woman was a danger to herself and others. She feared the cops might have taken her children away, or arrested her.
Rosalba moved from Mexico to Oregon, then to New Orleans. She describes Congreso as “a second family”. Congreso helps people with legal forms, informs people of their rights, and mobilizes community and legal support when members of the migrant community are arrested. They also go with people to their ICE “check-ins”. the ICE office is located at 1250 Poydras Street
Rosalba and María both described the police force in Kenner as extremely hostile, noting the connection between the victimization of the African American community and the Latinx community.
“Almost everyone is afraid here,” said María. Both told Big Easy Magazine that people are often stopped and arrested due to racial profiling in Kenner.
A final speaker, Jackie Brown Cochran, a pastor in Kenner, spoke about her nephew Armond Jairon Brown, who was shot and killed by Kenner police last year. The officer who killed Brown is still on the Kenner force.
“We ask that we you work with us to unify, so that Kenner police, and nowhere else in this nation, can decide that it’s open season on people of color!”
According to a spokesperson from Congreso, Police Chief Michael Glaser of Kenner has said that it would be a “waste of time” to meet with Congreso.
“I want a future where we can be free,” says Rosalba.
“We want a safe Kenner. Respect our rights—no one is “illegal”. We are all human.”
*Only first name is given to protect the speaker’s identity and safety