Among the Hard Rock accident’s worst victims? An immigrant who helped build the hotel.


Courtesy of David Grunfeld, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

On Oct. 20, city officials imploded two cranes on hanging above the Hard Rock Hotel’s partially collapsed construction site

Colin Threlkeld, Senior Staff Writer

When Delmer Joel Ramirez Palma showed up to work his construction job at the Hard Rock Hotel on Oct. 12, he hardly could have imagined what the next few days would have in store for him. Ramirez Palma managed to escape the building collapse with his life, but he emerged from the debris having suffered significant injuries.

 The next day, Ramirez Palma, who is originally from Honduras, spoke with a Spanish-language news station about his experience.

 Along with four other workers on the construction site, Ramirez Palma filed a lawsuit against the development consortium, “accusing them of causing the collapse by using inadequate materials and supports,” according to

The next day, he found himself accused of fishing without a license by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents in Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge who then called ICE agents to arrest him when Ramirez Palma could not produce U.S. identification. Ramirez Palma is currently being detained — a nice, sanitizing word used for “imprisoned” — in Oakdale, Louisiana, pending deportation to Honduras after a federal immigration judge ordered him to be deported in 2016.

An ICE spokesman strongly denied the implication that Ramirez Palma’s detainment was in any way related to his pending lawsuit or his decision to speak to media, but the agency’s history of targeting Spanish-language media and undocumented people who share their stories with Spanish-language journalists has not won it the benefit of the doubt.

 Whether Ramirez Palma will be deported without having the opportunity to recover damages from the developers his class action lawsuit alleges put him and fellow workers in danger remains uncertain. His lawyers have stated that he remains in need of surgery, but so far ICE has not allowed him to get the treatment he needs. It would hardly be the first time in recent years that federal immigration authorities bailed out employers when their workers have organized to get what is rightfully theirs.

In early August of this year, on the first day of school no less, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations together with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi carried out workplace raids in seven food processing plants across Mississippi, resulting in the arrests of nearly 680 people suspected of being undocumented. Local news stations captured videos of children returning from the first day of school to find their parents had been detained. Many children reportedly remained home the next few days in fear that they would be arrested at their schools.

 The Koch Foods plant in Morton, Mississippi, at which 243 people were arrested, had a year prior settled a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of more than 100 workers alleging physical and sexual abuse on the job that the company was negligent in preventing.

 What the Mississippi raids make clear is the hollowness of the public rationale given for such maximalist immigration enforcement — namely, public safety and rule of law. The actual effect of a rogue agency like ICE terrorizing immigrant communities has been to drive workers into increasingly dangerous, exploitative and off-the-books employment.

 The raids communicated explicitly that undocumented people have little recourse to the protections of federal labor law or even the most basic tort law. The risks of drawing attention to one’s undocumented status simply make it cost prohibitive.

 Mayor Latoya Cantrell’s administration will likely recover extensive damages for the city and local businesses affected by the Hard Rock Hotel collapse if she has any ambition of winning a second term. But it will be a hollow victory as long as undocumented workers are forced to go on stoically accepting whatever harms their employers inflict on them, knowing they will be violently wrenched from their communities and shipped off to lands some of them barely know should they dare to assert their rights to compensation from negligent employers. 

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