Thursday, April 12, 2018

Americans' desire for cheap meat drives a cycle of low wages, illegal immigration, raids, missing parents and so on

Federal officials arrested 97 immigrants in rural Bean Station, Tenn., last week in a meatpacking plant raid that the National Immigration Law Center said was the largest in a decade. But it's unlikely to be the last such raid, because of Americans' desire for inexpensive meat and the government's decision to punish undocumented immigrants instead of their employers, Hampton University journalism professor Lynn Waltz writes for The Washington Post.

Labor unions once ensured meatpacking workers were well-paid and protected from injury, but in the 1960s meatpackers moved to right-to-work states, erasing those protections. After the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexican markets were flooded with cheap, government-subsidized corn from the U.S.; many Mexican corn farmers lost their livelihood and immigrated to the U.S. illegally. Meatpacking plants welcomed them because undocumented immigrants were willing to do more dangerous work for less money than Americans.

As president in 2001-09, Republican George W. Bush vowed to crack down on illegal immigration by catching and deporting workers instead of punishing the businesses that hire them, a strategy also favored by President Trump. But surprise raids provide little deterrent for illegal immigration and hurt communities in a cycle that keeps repeating, Waltz argues: "Americans want cheap meat. That requires low wages. So plants hire undocumented workers. ICE raids the plants. Latino families cry. Schoolteachers are put in the untenable position of either supervising children after hours or sending them home, knowing their parents are missing. People are appalled by the human cost, momentarily. Then employers and workers become more sophisticated at evading detection and the cycle begins again."

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