Katrina Survivors and Immigrant Workers Unite to Arrest Slave Owner

Poor black working class New Orleans residents are facing the worst racist attack in decades. At the same time, immigrant workers from Central and South America are being trafficked as slaves in New Orleans and across Louisiana. These two groups have come together to arrest one of the slave owners and traffickers.

Public housing residents who just last Saturday reoccupied their homes in the C.J. Peete housing development were told last night, Wednesday, February 14, that they must vacate their units or lose their vouchers. This would leave their extended families homeless. Today, young volunteers from New Jersey who have been helping to clean up the development were threatened with arrest for their efforts to help the residents.

Despite this emergency, when organizers from the New Orleans Survivor Council heard that immigrant workers had located their slave owner and were ready to execute a citizen’s arrest, they left New Orleans to come help their brothers and sisters.

Slave trafficker Matt Redd has been holding about one hundred Mexican workers as virtual slaves near Lake Charles, Louisiana. About forty of these workers, accompanied by supporters from the New Orleans Survivor Council, walked to the offices of Redd Properties in Sulphur, LA to attempt to execute a citizen’s arrest.

At a press conference in a CVS parking lot, just before going to Redd’s office, workers told the press that Redd had taken their passports without their consent at the US consulate in Mexico where they obtained their H2B (guest worker) visas. Redd then charged them plane fare and then put them in vans to bring them to Louisiana, where he leased them out to low-wage employers in restaurants, car washes and municipal waste management. He also recently imported dozens of skilled pipe fitters and welders, who have not worked in the two weeks they’ve been in the country. These workers have had no income, and because they do not have their passports, they can’t even go home. One worker told the press that his mother needed blood for a liver operation, and that he was the only family member whose blood was a match for hers, but he is unable to return because he doesn’t have his passport. In the past several days, Redd had begun firing workers for circulating a petition demanding their passports back.

A spokesperson for the New Orleans Survivor Council told the immigrant workers the words to some freedom songs: “before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave,” and “we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.” He pointed out that a carload of NOSC organizers had come to join them in making the citizen’s arrest despite the fact that at 11:30 the night before, residents who had reoccupied their public housing units were put out in the street by the Housing Authority on one of the coldest nights of the winter. Even so, the speaker said, “we are all the same people, the only thing that separates us is language; and we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”

The citizen’s arrest statement said in part, “You are officially accused of taking an official passport of a person and refusing to return it in order to prevent the movement and travel of that worker without lawful authority in order to maintain the labor of that worker – this is a felony under the law of the United States of America.” The statement quoted the particular U.S. and Louisiana laws against slavery and trafficking in slaves, and pointed out that it is the right of a private person to make an arrest of a person who has committed a felony. That person can then hold the criminal until law enforcement comes to take him into custody, or can take him to law enforcement.

Redd was not in his office, but the group had notified law enforcement agencies of their intention to make an arrest, so when they arrived at the office they demanded law enforcement find and arrest him. Sheriff’s police must have been a little worried about openly defending slavery while the press cameras were rolling, and they quickly worked out an agreement with Redd by phone to give back the passports of the workers present. The Sheriff’s office took possession of the passports and returned them to the workers, but the workers are still adamant in their demand that Redd be arrested for violating the anti-slavery laws. They vowed to continue their struggle, and to make sure that all passports Redd is holding will be returned to their owners. Meanwhile, the Survivor Council members jumped back in their cars to return to the struggle to reopen public housing, to rebuild the homes of black residents the government doesn’t want to come home, and to continue its campaign to build a world-class levee around the Lower Ninth ward.

These beginnings of unity between black New Orleans hurricane survivors and immigrant guest workers – the descendants of the old slaves uniting with the modern day slaves – is a very significant event. As one of the Sheriffs pointed out, it was the U.S. government itself that gave the passports to the slaveholder. Just as in the days of African slavery, the government is on the side of the owners. When the descendants of the former slaves were asked what should be the next step, they suggested filing suit against the government of the United States for being an accomplice to slave owning and trafficking.