BATON ROUGE, La. (BPROUD) — The United States Census Bureau shows in the past decade East Baton Rouge Parish had the second-largest Hispanic population growth in the state.

“The Hispanic community makes up 25 percent of our total services but at times it has been as high as 50 percent,” said David Aguillard, executive director of Baton Rouge Catholic Charities Diocese.

Catholic Charities in Baton Rouge provides resources for immigrants. Aguillard says Baton Rouge has become more attractive because of its job opportunities.

“It seems to grow more quickly after disasters. And if it weren’t for the Hispanic community, south Louisiana would not recover as quickly as it does from disasters,” he said. “Just like most immigrants across the world really, people seeking a better life.” 

Census data shows about 30 percent of Baton Rouge’s Hispanic and Latino residents work in construction.

Maurice Velasquez knows exactly what it’s like to migrate to the United States seeking a better life. Maurice and his family fled Colombia in the mid-’70s during tense political violence and the emerging war on drugs.

“Being an immigrant in this country is every day waking up and being thankful,” said Velasquez.

Velasquez’s family depended on Catholic Charities when they got to the states. 

Without these resources, it’s hard for immigrants to see themselves living the American dream. He has now accomplished his dream of becoming a business owner. 

“I remember to this day, looking out the window of the plane, and saying, ‘Man, I hope this works out,'” he recalled.

Other than job opportunities, Aguillard says a big portion of their clientele is dealing with asylum cases. He says that the need has grown in the past few years.

“We also work here very closely with law enforcement because immigrants tend to be preyed upon and taken advantage of,” said Aguillard.

He says the growing population is not only benefiting those seeking a better life but also helping boost the local economy. 

“The thing that I wish people really understood is that immigrants don’t come here to make changes, immigrants come here to contribute to our economy,” he said.