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July 2007, Volume 13, Number 3

Midwest: Meat, New Frontiers

Cargill Meat Solutions, the second-largest beef-packer (after Tyson, which bought IBP), is headquartered in Wichita, Kansas (Cargill is headquartered in Minneapolis). In a June 3, 2007 interview, CEO Bill Rupp said Cargill does nine checks for legal status, including comparing a job applicant's Social Security number to his/her name, date of birth, father's name and mother's maiden name; Cargill's workers are about two-thirds Hispanic.

Cargill said that Canada makes it far easier to recruit temporary foreign workers for meatpacking, and that its plants in Canada have temporary workers from the Philippines and Mexico.

On December 12, 2006, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents mounted the largest-ever workplace raids at six Swift & Co. meatpacking plants, arresting 1,282 workers. In the aftermath of the raids, schools are making plans to deal with children whose parents have been apprehended, and unions are preparing kits to distribute to workers that explain their rights.

Swift estimated the cost of the raids at $20 million to $30 million in lost production and hiring replacement workers. Swift is privately owned by HM Capital Partners LLC, but has publicly traded debt; it said that its costs would rise because of the cost of the hiring incentives required to restaff the plants.

Meatpackers are not preparing their workers for raids because they say they hire only authorized workers, and screen new hires via Basic Pilot, the government program that aims to prevent the unauthorized from getting jobs. University of Kansas anthropologist Don Stull estimated that 25 percent of US meatpacking workers are unauthorized, and the U.S. Attorney in Kansas said that half of the immigration-related cases in the state are associated with meatpacking.

There are major meatpacking operations in Dodge City, Liberal, Garden City and Emporia, and the US Attorney says that identity theft is rising in Cowley County, where Creekstone Farms Premium Beef opened a plant in 2003.

Meatpacking is dangerous. In 2005, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 47,500 workers in the animal slaughter and processing industry had a reportable injury, a rate of 9.1 injuries for every 100 workers; 13 workers died on the job.

Minnesota-based Hormel Foods may be the only Fortune 500 firm that makes stock options available to all its 18,000 employees. In January 2007, all employees were given an option to buy 100 Hormel shares at $37 a share; the options vest after five years or when the stock price hits $50 a share, whichever comes first.

Reflecting the growing number of Mexicans employed in area poultry processing plants, Mexico opened its 47th US consulate in Little Rock, Arkansas in April 2007. The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation released a study in April 2007 that estimated that the state's manufacturers save almost $100 million a year because of the availability of migrant workers, half of whom are believed to be unauthorized. Mexican immigrant laborers earn $7.50 an hour in Arkansas, compared with $11 an hour for US-born residents of Arkansas.

In May 2007, ICE agents raided the George's poultry processing plant in Springfield, Missouri, arresting 136 workers.

The Catholic Migrant Farmworker Network met at Creighton University in Omaha in May 2007 to discuss ways of improving life for farm workers.

Opposition to unauthorized foreigners is increasing in some cities. Green Bay, Wisconsin in June 2007 approved an ordinance on a 9-2 vote that could lead to the loss of licenses and contracts of businesses found to be employing unauthorized foreigners.

New Frontiers. The book, "Immigration's New Frontiers: Experiences from the Emerging Gateway States," edited by Greg Anrig and Tova Andrea Wang, examines integration and immigration in five new destinations: North Carolina, Iowa, Georgia, Minnesota and Nebraska. The editors find that all states initially welcomed newcomers, most of whom had little education, for economic reasons, but became more ambivalent about the immigrants over time. None of these states has found, according to the contributors, a satisfactory balance between protecting natives and welcoming newcomers because of contradictory policies, experience with immigrants and lack of funds.

Examples of changes in state policies abound. North Carolina did not require proof of legal status to obtain state drivers' licenses before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, but since then has become much tougher in the documentation required for licenses. Housing is a concern in many places, with especially solo men willing to live in overcrowded conditions because of their low US earnings and desire to remit to their families, which creates tension between housing codes and the need for low-cost shelter.

There were 50 million people living in nonmetro counties in 2005, including 7.5 million or 15 percent who were 65 and older (12 percent of all Americans are 65 and older). About 18 percent of the nonmetro population is minority, compared with 36 percent of metro residents. Brown County, Minnesota is 97 percent non-Hispanic white; two-thirds of residents have German ancestry, but only four percent speak German.

John Hartzell, "Conference told more immigrants employed on Wisconsin farms," Associated Press, May 15, 2007. Roxana Hegeman, "Workers at meatpacking towns preparing for possible raids," AP, April 15, 2007. Anrig, Greg and Tova Andrea Wang. Eds. 2007. Immigration's New Frontiers: Experiences from the Emerging Gateway States. Century Foundation Press.