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In Wake of Hurricane, Immigrants Are Rebuilding Florida Panhandle While Trump Jokes of Shooting Them

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In a recent article Miriam Jordan of the New York Times writes of “Hurricane Chasers: An Immigrant Work Force on the Trail of Extreme Weather.” She sheds light on a “resilience force” of migratory immigrant workers who travel to disaster and recovery areas in America to do dirty and dangerous work, often while living in squalid conditions and being robbed of their wages. In particular, her piece focuses on hurricane relief and recovery crews who are rebuilding the Florida panhandle following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael last year. 

What a stark contrast to Trump’s campaign rally in Florida a few months ago, where he responded to a shout that immigrants should be shot by saying, with a big smile on his face, “only in the Panhandle you can get away with that statement!” The rally crowd loved it.

This captures the essence of Trump and his rabid followers: blame and demonize immigrants while relying on them to do the dirty work to build American communities and industries and taking advantage of their vulnerability. 

Below is an excerpt from the piece by Miriam Jordan in the New York Times. Find the story in its entirety here:

They arrived by the hundreds last year after Hurricane Michael sliced through the Florida Panhandle, packing 160-mile-per-hour winds that snapped pine trees in half, mangled steel posts, ripped off roofs and upended people’s lives. Without electricity, potable water or reliable accommodation, a rapid-response labor force got to work carting away the wreckage.

In the ensuing months, the workers — nearly all of them from Central America, Mexico and Venezuela — toiled day and night across Bay County to reopen Panama City’s City Hall, repair the local campus of Florida State University and fix damaged roofs on several churches. In towns like Callaway, which saw 90 percent of its housing stock damaged by the Category 5 storm last October, they are still working.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 1.2 million Americans live in coastal areas at risk of significant damage from hurricanes. The increased frequency and severity of such disasters have given rise to a new recovery-and-reconstruction work force.

It is overwhelmingly made up of immigrants.

…In Bay County, a nonprofit called Resilience Force has been meeting with immigrant workers, trying to organize them and lobby to improve conditions. “Since Katrina, we have a new work force,” Saket Soni, the group’s executive director, told a large group at a recent gathering. “You are that work force, rebuilding city after city in the wake of hurricanes.”

At a meeting of Bay County commissioners in mid-September, Mr. Soni asked them to consider an ordinance that would make it a violation of county law to underpay or retaliate against workers. Most workers are promised between $15 and $20 an hour.

…During a May campaign rally in Panama City Beach, along the coast of Bay County, President Trump did not specifically mention the itinerant work force carrying out much of the region’s hurricane repairs in a speech that highlighted undocumented immigrants. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people,” he said.

“How do you stop these people?” he asked, and someone in the crowd replied, “Shoot them!” Mr. Trump then declared, “Only in the Panhandle you can get away with that statement.”

But in a county where seven out of 10 voters supported the president in 2016, there has been little political opposition to the hurricane workers.