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Dispatches from Dr. Joel Dvoskin: October 2006

New Orleans Revisited

by Joel A. Dvoskin, Ph.D., ABPP
Diplomate in Forensic Psychology
University of Arizona College of Medicine
Originally published in the Newsletter of the American Psychology - Law Society, Fall 2006

A few weeks ago, the American Psychological Association had its annual convention in New Orleans. I was proud of us for doing so, for putting our money where our mouths are, so to speak. The city did a great job of hosting our convention, and it was a blessedly uneventful week.

After a bit of ambivalence, I took the "Katrina Tour" on Monday morning before I left town. I felt like it would be wrong to come there and insulate myself in the French Quarter, and I was assured by several local people that they want us to see the damage. Further, they assured me that the neighborhoods I would visit—no tour buses are allowed in the 9th Ward—would not be offended, because there are virtually no people there. How right they were.

I saw entire, huge neighborhoods virtually abandoned. It was not the hurricane. It was not even the flooding. What gave these houses a knockout blow was the mold. Black mold is evil. To beat the mold, one has to completely gut the inside of the house, throw away all of the infected drywall, spray the studs with bleach, and then rebuild the entire house.

And the money. With staggering and unflinching irony, many insurance policies, I was told, will only pay what the damage would have cost to fix before the hurricane. Since the hurricane and the floods and the mold and the exodus, there are few skilled tradespeople and fewer materials with which to rebuild. The unemotional law of supply and demand has skyrocketed costs beyond most people's ability to pay. And for those who could afford to rebuild, there is the specter of pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the only functional house on your block. No neighborhood, no neighbors, only gruesome views of where your friends used to live.

It broke my heart.

When I got back to my hotel, I started chatting in my broken and dysfunctional Spanish with the lovely young maid who was cleaning the room. She and her husband moved here illegally a year ago, because they didn't have enough money to buy food for their family in Honduras. They send most of what they make home, and live in conditions that they find tolerable only in comparison to where they used to live. When I asked her if she had kids, she began to softly cry, and told me of her son, who remains in Honduras with her mother, and to whom she sends most of her money. She cannot visit him, and he cannot come to see his parents, because they entered the United States illegally. She works 12 hours a day, every day, but does not mind because her work is clean and air conditioned—her life is neither.

I learned that this young woman was part of a huge workforce of people who were brought here to do work, paid at rates for which even poor Americans will apparently not move to New Orleans, and this was before the storms. Like everyone else, they were evacuated for six months, and then returned to the devastated city. Nobody asked them if they were legal, because tourists want clean rooms and New Orleans wants tourists. I don't have enough facts to accuse a major hotel chain of breaking labor and immigration laws with impunity, but I do not believe that this maid was making minimum wage with time-and-a-half for overtime.

This experience made me realize that both political parties are wrong, very wrong, about immigration. (Admittedly, this came as no surprise; I usually think that both parties wrong about almost everything.) Porous borders allow American businesses to avoid paying a living wage, because the people they import like cargo work off the books and are willing to live in squalor. So Americans remain unemployed and illegal aliens clean our hotel rooms.

In life, you should make it easier for people to do what you want them to do and harder for them to do what you don't want them to do. A sensible immigration policy would make it easier for people of color—let's face it, I never met a Canadian who had trouble emigrating to the United States—to come here legally and more difficult for people to come here illegally. This of course is exactly the opposite of our current policy, and it doesn't take an economist to figure out whose interests this serves.

Rich people, all over the world and throughout history, need only one thing.

Rich people need poor people.

So my trip to New Orleans was heartbreaking, yet I was glad I went. Glad to put some money into this economy. Glad to meet some of the most resilient people I've ever had the honor to meet. And oddly, glad to have my heart broken, because there are some truths that are worth knowing even if they make you really sad.

Joel A. Dvoskin, Ph.D., ABPP
Diplomate in Forensic Psychology
University of Arizona College of Medicine
President-elect, American Psychology-Law Society

© 2006 Joel A. Dvoskin. All rights reserved.

For more information about Dr. Joel A. Dvoskin, or to read more articles by this leading leading forensic psychologist, click here.


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