The benefits of ICE

by MEAT&POULTRY Staff
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The idea that working in a meat or poultry plant is a job that "Americans just won’t do" is "not just a myth, it’s a lie," states Carol Swain, professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University. Moreover, the raids conducted last year at meat and poultry operations by officials and agents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) to round up workers who were suspected of working in the United States illegally have had a beneficial impact on workers, the professor told MEATPOULTRY.com.

"What’s happened is that in the wake of these raids, American workers have lined up for the jobs," she said. "In some places, wages have gone up and working conditions have improved" – though, she hastened to point out, she has not yet made a comprehensive study to gather documentable data. She said that the industry’s reliance on immigrant labor "has had an adverse effect on low-wage legal workers – who are in this country legally."

A recent study by the Center for Immigration Studies bears out Professor Swain’s opinion that there are no jobs Americans refuse to do because of the working conditions, low wages or other factors. The study, based on 2005-07 data, examined 465 occupations and found just four that had a majority of immigrants employed in them: plasterers and stucco masons, agricultural graders and sorters, personal appliance workers, and tailors and dressmakers. Every other occupation, including janitors, maids, and groundskeepers, plus workers in meat and poultry plants, was filled by a majority of native-born Americans.

Yet as reported two weeks ago in "Beyond the Headlines," the United Food and Commercial Workers, the U.S. meat and poultry industry’s chief union, isn’t seeing a shift toward all-American workforces, at least among those that UFCW represents. "We’re not seeing droves of Anglos – white farm boys like myself – lining up to work in meat plants," Mark Lauritsen, who worked as an hourly-wage employee in a meat plant as a young man and who is now UFCW’s international vice president, told MEATPOULTRY.com. "It’s always been an industry of immigrants and probably always will be."

Swain said it bothers her that whenever the argument is made that immigrants who work in the U.S. illegally have a negative impact on native-born workers, "their voice is dismissed as mean-spirited, as hating foreigners. I don’t hate foreigners, and I certainly recognize the devastating impacts of ICE raids on those who are working here illegally and on their families. What this is really about is the application of American law and what kind of country we want to be."

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