DMI Blog

Amy Taylor

ICE Raids Meatpacking Plants in Six States; Effects Remain to be Seen

Yesterday, while speaking to one of our partners on our immigration reform work at Nebraska Appleseed, I learned that ICE was in the middle of immigration raids across the country. Yesterday, ICE raided meatpacking plants in six states owned by Swift & Company, the world's second largest meat processing company. As Milo Mumgaard argues in his organization's official statement reacting to the raids, if the past has taught us anything, we will soon learn that this raid, like most, will devastate communities and local economies while failing to affect the demand for immigrant workers. The results will be widespread. Many citizens and legal workers are likely to leave their jobs after being faced with the intimidating presence of ICE, as happened on a large scale during the raids of 1999. As hundreds of workers are detained and deported, families will be separated, citizen children will come home to find their parents have been detained, country jails will fill up with non-criminals, vital workers will be lost and many will subsequently risk their lives to return to their families, and, ultimately, the state and local economies will suffer on a grand scale as a result of the slowdown.

While there is nearly universal acceptance that something needs to be done to reform our immigration system, those states with histories of workplace raids know that enforcement alone will never achieve its stated goal. If the goal is merely to look tough and send vibrations of fear through immigrant communities - then perhaps their chosen tactic will be successful. However, as Nebraska has already learned, the economic effects are sure to be much greater. As a result of the 1999 raids in the midwest, a statewide taskforce recommended against such actions because of the resulting economic devastation on the entire meatpacking industry. As a start, all six Swift plants have already suspended operations as a result of the raids.

There is no question that our country needs immigration reform desperately. And once an effective policy is put into place, it will need to be enforced. But removing workers who are needed by our economy, at a great cost considering the tactics used in these raids, will only cause a ripple effect of economic problems (not to mention the emotional effects on immigrant communities) - without decreasing the demand for immigrant workers. This is not the road to positive reform.

Yesterday's raids are even more troubling because ICE officials are characterizing them as a crackdown on an identity theft scheme- the selling of Social Security numbers to undocumented workers. Some workers are now also facing criminal charges based on the use of false Social Security numbers. It seems ICE has employed a marketing team to conjure up support from the general public. Who wouldn't oppose identity theft? In reality, the use of false Social Security numbers by immigrant workers who lack work authorization, is an age-old trend that allows companies to appear ignorant of any labor violations while still getting the workers they need to run their plants. Meanwhile, immigrant workers are vulnerable to raids such as these. To date, no charges have been filed against the plants. This is certainly a practice that must be reformed. However, the real effect of it is extremely different from the consumer identity fraud we are all familiar with where someone goes on a shopping spree with your credit card. In this case, immigrant workers contribute to other people's retirement accounts and they never see these benefits themselves. In fact, the U.S. Social Security Administration estimates that undocumented immigrants contribute $8.5 billion in Social Security and Medicare funds each year that they will themselves never collect. Furthermore, ICE has stated that the scheme has "victimized a large number of U.S. citizens and lawful residents." I do not mean to belittle the experience of someone operating under your identity, but calling the use of false social security numbers "identity theft" seems to be a misnomer.

All of the energy put into the raids and the new messaging should more effectively be put toward reforming our country's immigration laws to make such brutal enforcement tactics unnecessary.

Amy Taylor: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 9:00 AM, Dec 13, 2006 in Immigration
Permalink | Email to Friend