What do you call companies who make a practice of hiring immigrants, knowing full well some are undocumented, depend on their labor, subject them to brutal, crippling work, pay them low wages, set them in opposition to other exploited workers, and aggressively combat the workers' efforts to organize for better conditions, then turn them in to ICE?
Me, myself, I'm sitting here saying, "Them motherf*ckers!" From the AP:
Nearly 300 people were arrested Wednesday in immigration and identity theft raids at Pilgrim's Pride poultry plants in five states. … "We knew in advance and cooperated fully," said Ray Atkinson, a spokesman for the Pittsburg, Texas, company. ...The raids were part of a long-term investigation, officials said. Plants were raided in Mount Pleasant, Texas, Batesville, Ark., Live Oak, Fla., Chattanooga, Tenn. and Moorefield, W.Va., authorities said.If you think anyone is pulling the wool over poultry companies' eyes, that they are unwittingly hiring undocumented immigrants, please allow me to disabuse you of that notion. Let me point you to two newspapers series: The Chicken Trail, a 2006 Los Angeles Times series (abstracts free, articles cost), and The Cruelest Cuts, a 2008 Charlotte Observer series. An excerpt:
Atkinson said the company went to ICE agents with information about identity theft at the Arkansas plant. (emphasis mine)
Of 52 current and former Latino workers at House of Raeford who spoke to the Observer about their legal status, 42 said they were in the country illegally.Also, Russell Cobb's The Chicken Hangers, much of which is part of a paper he wrote for a series of occasional papers sponsored by UT-Austin's Inter-American Policy Studies Program about poultry workers.* Cobb recounts the story of Esteban, an immigrant poultry processing worker:
Company officials say they hire mostly Latino workers but don't knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
But five current and former House of Raeford supervisors and human resource administrators, including two who were involved in hiring, said some of the company's managers know they employ undocumented workers.
"If immigration came and looked at our files, they'd take half the plant," said Caitlyn Davis, a former Greenville, S.C., plant human resources employee.
Former Greenville supervisors said the plant prefers undocumented workers because they are less likely to question working conditions for fear of losing their jobs or being deported.(emphasis mine)
[A]fter a year on the job, Julio Gordo, a manager at Peco Foods, called Esteban into his office. (To protect his identity, Julio Gordo is a pseudonym.) According to Esteban, Gordo told him that the Social Security Administration had notified Peco Foods that Esteban’s Social Security Number had repeated as a number for another worker.So, given the current employee makeup, poultry processors depend heavily upon the labor of immigrants, including undocumented immigrants. In order to obtain work, these immigrants often become involved in a "fake document" black market,** risky actions that can see them deported or land in jail. Employers are well aware of the risk immigrants take. Federal prosecutors certainly believed so when they charged Tyson "of conspiring to smuggle immigrants to work at the company's poultry processing plants."***
At first, Esteban feared he would be fired by the plant and deported for document fraud — a fate not uncommon among undocumented workers. “Gordo told me he could have the cops here in five minutes if I didn’t cooperate with him,” Esteban confided to me later.
After Gordo allegedly threatened to deport Esteban, he reassured him that he could stay on at the plant if he could get a new ID and Social Security Number. Esteban knew this would be difficult; fake documents cost hundreds of dollars and were sold by only a handful of people in southern Mississippi on the black market. Furthermore, Esteban knew he would run the risk of being fired or deported if he bought a new Social Security Number, since he would be admitting his old one was false. Even with a new I.D., his seniority — including the two raises he had received for a year’s work — would be revoked. Esteban would be starting over from scratch.
Then, according to Esteban, Gordo told him he was willing to do him a “favor”: Esteban could buy a new Social Security Card from Gordo for $700. This was a favor Gordo had done for many other Mexicans in the same situation, he claimed.
Yet, despite the fact that "immigrant labor" has become a necessity to the poultry industry, immigrants have not. Poultry processors are used to high turnover--the UFCW suggests that annual turnover is well over 100%--and treat their workers as interchangeable, a disposable workforce. They themselves incur no risk. The article on Pilgrim's Pride lists a number of charges that immigrant workers will face then states succinctly, "Pilgrim's Pride faces no charges." Tyson beat the federal case by disavowing claims that they recruited and smuggled immigrant workers, blaming those actions not on company policies but on a few "rogue" employees.
And the immigrant workers who are fired, jailed, deported with little recourse will simply be replaced.
*Anita Grabowski was an author of one of those papers and has gone on to produce Mississippi Chicken. From the film's synopsis:
In the 1990s, poultry companies in
and throughout the American South began to heavily recruit Latin American immigrants, most of them undocumented, to work in the poultry plants. A decade later, there are now large immigrant communities in poultry towns all over the South, and the immigrants find themselves in an extremely vulnerable situation, where they are frequent victims of abuse by employers, police officers, landlords, neighbors and even other immigrants. Mississippi
**For more, see House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims, Illegal Immigration Enforcement and Social Security Protection Act of 2005: Hearing before the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims. 109th Congress, 1st Session, 12 May 2005 (
***The INS accused Tyson of cultivating a culture “in which the hiring of illegal alien workers was condoned in order to meet production goals and cut costs to maximize profits.” The indictments alleged that Tyson aided and abetted these workers in obtaining fake documents.