Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Immigration Raids Help African Americans--but not for long

I just came across this incredible article that appeared on the front page of today's Wall Street Journal. It gets at a fundamental question about immigration and what it means for ordinary low-wage workers: what is the effect of undocumented labor on the unskilled labor market?

This article takes a in-depth look at the Crider Poultry processing plant in Stillmore, GA after the ICE raids that took place during Labor Day weekend, 2006. The narrative recounted here offers many lessons about the unsafe and often illegal working conditions that undocumented workers are subjected to in poultry plants. It also chronicles the story of an African American worker to came to work in the plant after the ICE raid produced a labor shortage at the plant.

What happened after the raid says much about the low wage labor market in the U.S., and how much American businesses are addicted to a steady stream of unskilled workers who have no rights. In other words, these employers are all too happy to exploit the immigrant workforce and break federal immigration law.

Although African Americans were willing to take the jobs that were vacated as a result of the ICE raid,, they were aware that they had rights and were willing to demand them. As a result, some workers refused to work in unsafe conditions, demanded better pay, and demanded that the plant actually allow injured workers to leave their work station after suffering an injury. Many of the African American workers were fired as a result of demanding their rights; today the plant is still short some 300 employees.

This article exposes the complexity of the immigration dilemma in the U.S., and demonstrates that undocumented immigration is not a border enforcement problem, but more a workplace problem.

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