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The demand is so great that Custer doubled the salary for a former Hispanic employee who quit to take his family to New York before the hurricane, but who has returned to New Orleans. Custer initially offered him $15 an hour -- now the going entry-level pay -- but the ex-employee balked. After a 15-minute phone conversation, Custer agreed to pay him $17 an hour. "We got people coming in from all over who are obviously Hispanic," said Romualdo Gonzalez, an immigration lawyer in New Orleans. "If you go downtown and see the crew cleaning up, 80 percent are Mexicans." The influx of Hispanic workers is raising concern among city officials. Last week, Associated Press reported, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin asked local businesspeople, "How do I ensure that New Orleans is not overrun by Mexican workers?"
According to census figures, in 2000 there were about 15,000 Hispanics in New Orleans, or 3 percent of the population. Hispanic leaders and academic experts say the newcomers probably will change the face of the city.