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Chick-News.com Poultry Industry News, Comments and more by Simon M. Shane

Coordinated ICE Raids Apprehend 700 Presumably Illegal Food-Plant Workers

08/09/2019

On Wednesday August 7th Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) mounted raids in Canton, Pelahatchie, Morton, Bay Springs, Walnut Grove and Carthage, MS.  Food processing and chicken plants were targeted in these areas.  Among the facilities raided were a Koch Foods plant in Morton and three Peco Foods plants (Canton, Sebastopol and Bay Springs) in addition to Pearl River Foods and PH Foods.

Obviously the Department of Homeland Security has every right to raid plants following court-issued warrants and take action against illegal workers in accordance with U.S. laws.  It is understood that as many as half of the detainees processed were subsequently released on compassionate grounds subject to their subsequent appearance in court for official hearings.

 

The action by ICE that must have required considerable planning to simultaneously deploy over 650 agents in six locations together with their logistics and transport illustrates the extent of illegal employment of aliens, if in fact, it is proven that they were working in U.S.-owned facilities without appropriate documentation.

 

If the problem in the chicken and food industries is as extensive as denoted by the raids, there is obvious concern regarding the disparity between available jobs and the willingness of our domestic workforce to fill vacancies.  Why do we have millions unemployed in both rural and urban areas drawing government support while employers have to resort to both documented and undocumented aliens?  Why is it that economically and socially disadvantaged nationals of Central America and even our neighbor to the south are willing to travel to the U.S. and take jobs which U.S. citizens are unwilling to consider?

 

Peco Foods apparently had 125 employees apprehended from a plant probably employing as many as 1,000.  This is a high proportion of their workforce, especially given that the plant probably operates on a two-shift basis and that an early raid would have involved only half the labor complement.  In a statement provided to station WAPT, Peco Foods noted “We adhere strongly to all local, state and federal laws including utilizing the government-based E-Verify program which screens new hires through the Social Security Administration as well as the Department of Homeland Security for compliance.”  Problems relating to verification of eligibility for employment are outlined in a letter to the President from the NCC, reproduced in this edition of CHICK-NEWS.

 

So if Peco Foods and Koch Foods were adhering to the E-Verify program why were so many of their employees considered by ICE to be “illegal” and subject to arrest?  Deficiencies in the E-Verify system are outlined in a letter from the NCC to the President. It is possible that at the time of the raid employees were not in possession of their documents or ICE personnel erred in apprehending legal workers. It is unlikely that major broiler integrators negligently or knowingly employ ineligible workers.

 

The scope of the raid and its focus on the chicken processing and food industries in central Mississippi was probably intended as a message to other segments of the agricultural and manufacturing economies that employ large numbers of minimum-wage workers.  Obviously small-scale sweat-shops will deviate from the law but in the case of major chicken processors with employees numbered in the thousands, it would be expected that their human resources departments should be capable of navigating the E-Verify system and remain in compliance  despite obvious problems with confirming eligibility based on a review of documentation.

 

It is expected that the ICE raids will be repeated since they appear popular with a segment of the electorate. It is also possible that the Department of Justice may initiate proceedings against flagrant violators based on numbers of illegal aliens employed and evident non-compliance with the E-Verify system.  The Mississippi raids raise profound questions relating to the willingness of able-bodied U.S. citizens to draw government support and be content for aliens to fill available jobs in agriculture, food plants and the manufacturing sector. The raids also highlight the need for an adequate number of H-2A visas and the deficiencies of the E-Verify System.


 
Copyright 2019 Simon M. Shane