Rebuilding California, Legally

Published on November 30th, 2007

Citizens shouldn’t get burned for contractors’ profits

By Mark Cromer
November 2007

The wildfires that ravaged California last month were still blazing when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and other state officials began to speak about the massive reconstruction effort that’s expected to follow the Biblical-sized blazes that scorched more than 700-square miles of the Golden State.

The governor was right in casting an eye to the future.

The catastrophe that reduced more than 1,600 homes to smoldering rubble and inflicted more than a billion dollars in damage will ultimately result in a reconstruction blitz that will inject billions of dollars back into the regional economy—much of it in payroll for the labor that will be employed for the task.

But who will make up the bulk of that workforce?

Gov. Schwarzenegger needs to tell the citizens of California whether he intends to allow the state’s recovery effort to go the way of the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina obliterated much of it. 

Which is to say: will Schwarzenegger allow insurance companies looking to keep recovery costs at a minimum to partner with contractors eager to jack-up their profit margins by hiring illegal immigrants in lieu of citizens?

The disgraceful nature of reconstruction efforts that followed in the aftermath of Katrina may well serve as a shameful template for what Californians can expect in the weeks and months ahead. 

The ground in Mississippi and Louisiana hadn’t even dried before an influx of migrant workers, many if not most of them illegally in the country, poured into the region; betting that the hurricane would be followed by the perfect storm of need and greed.

They were right.

Black citizens in New Orleans suffered disproportionately a second time, watching helplessly as illegal immigrants willing to work for much lower wages replaced them at job sites. Far from being scattered incidents along the fringes of the reconstruction effort, a second hurricane struck many citizens in the Big Easy, impacting their jobs, emergency resources and social services.

Consider that the year before Katrina made landfall, Latinos accounted for only two-percent of the women accessing prenatal care at two clinics run by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals serving New Orleans.

The year following Katrina, 96-percent of the women using the same two prenatal units were Latino. As maternity clinics swelled beyond capacity, many immigrant mothers simply walked into the emergency room to give birth. 

Now California is not Louisiana, and what happened virtually overnight in Orleans Parish has been taking place over the past three decades in Los Angeles County and much of the rest of Southern California. Working class neighborhoods in California have long been transformed by unrestrained illegal immigration, and its impacts; from job competition to crowded schools to closing hospitals and shrinking resources is simply old hat for citizens here working to make ends meet.

But the silver lining of California’s disaster can be seen in the looming demand for skilled and semi-skilled labor in the fire-ravaged regions. 

So the question now falls to Gov. Schwarzenegger, will he embrace the propaganda peddled by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its ally the National Council of La Raza and insist that rebuilding our state is simply another job Americans—in this case Californians—won’t do?

O will he use the bully pulpit of his position and the power of his executive pen to muscle and intimidate the insurance companies and contractors into complying with federal and state law by hiring only legal workers at a fair wage?

California’s First Lady Maria Shriver could remind her husband of the courageous and principled stand her uncle John Kennedy took as president in the spring of 1962, when he faced down the powerful steel industry as it tried to dramatically raise prices to the level of profiteering.

Speaking directly to the nation in a televised news conference, Kennedy publicly upbraided the steel barons, noting that their brazen pursuit of profit in time of crisis revealed their “utter contempt” for the American people.

If he were to take a cue from JFK, Schwarzenegger can expect a furious response from the powerful open-borders lobby. New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin was ruthlessly attacked for daring to raise the alarm over citizens—most of them African American—being knocked out of reconstruction sites by illegal immigrant replacement workers.

But if the governor doesn’t act and instead allows the insurance companies and contractors to exploit this Herculean reconstruction effort to pad their own profit margins by hiring illegal immigrants, then Californians will have been burned yet again.

Mark Cromer is a Senior Writing Fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), www.capsweb.org . He can be reached at [email protected]

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