Federal agents carried out one of the largest immigration raids in recent history this week, arresting nearly 700 workers at chicken processing plants in Mississippi.
But you can still buy a rotisserie bird at your local supermarket tonight for less than $10.
So far, the government crackdown has had little effect on the wider food-processing industry, a dangerous business that is heavily reliant on immigrant labor.
The Trump administration says its crackdown helps discourage illegal immigration. But workers’ advocates warn it leaves vulnerable employees open to exploitation and unsafe working conditions.
“Americans really need to think about where their chicken and where their beef and their pork comes from and really demand that the industry raise labor standards,” says Debbie Berkowitz, who directs a health and safety program at the National Employment Law Project.
Authorities raided seven Mississippi poultry plants on Wednesday, arresting 680 people suspected of living in the country illegally. So far, no charges have been brought against the five companies that run the plants, although federal officials say that could change as the investigation is ongoing.
The Trump administration has focused considerable resources on workplace immigration probes. Investigations and audits more than tripled last year, and arrests of workers rose even more. But there was no comparable increase in the number of employers cited.
“These enforcement actions are always aimed toward the workforces,” says Ted Genoways, whose 2014 book, The Chain, focuses on the food processing industry. “No one ever seems to ask how it is that a company comes to employ a factory full of people who do not have legal immigration status.”
Genoways says that is reminiscent of other high-profile raids on a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, in 2008 and at half a dozen Swift plants in 2006.
“In all those cases, there were work stoppages, huge numbers of people swept up, families divided, but little to no consequences for the people who did the hiring,” he says. “And those plants were back up and in production in fairly short order.”
By Scott Horsley for NPR.ORG
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