Mississippi Raids Net Americans Jobs

ICE enforcement pays off

By Andrew R. Arthur on January 2, 2020

On Sunday the New York Times reported a follow-up to an August 7, 2019, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operation in which the agency executed criminal search warrants at seven agricultural processing plants owned by five employers in Mississippi. Not surprisingly, it found that the operation "opened up jobs for American workers" (in the words of the headline of the Chicago Tribune's reprint of the Times story).

The operation was much-maligned at the time, as I explained in an August post:

With respect to criticisms of this operation, there were complaints about the "separation of parents from their children" that were a consequence of the operation. For example, there is the following excerpt from a letter signed by Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Chairman Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) of that committee's Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) of the House Homeland Security Committee that was addressed to Attorney General William Barr and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan:

We are investigating recent coordinated immigration enforcement actions by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Mississippi and [ICE], resulting in the arrest of 680 people.

We are concerned by reports that these enforcement actions on August 7, 2019, left many children — on their first day of school — separated from their parents and terrified because they did not know where their parents were taken and detained. Volunteers reportedly took in sobbing children at churches and schools to provide them food and comfort.

The Times did not reference the committee chairmen's complaints, although it did put its own spin on its findings, as Issues and Insights noted in an opinion piece about the Times' findings:

The Times goes on to say that, despite the experience in Morton, "the belief that native-born Americans are not sufficiently motivated to work persists."

To be sure, the Times sheds plenty of crocodile tears for the poor illegal immigrants affected by the raid, and it tries mightily to get the newly employed Americans to wring their hands about "stealing" those jobs.

Putting all of this aside for a moment, the article makes clear that American workers, and in particular local African-Americans, were able to find better jobs at the particular site that was its focus: the Koch Foods chicken processing plant in Morton, Miss.

The Times details the history of employment in the local poultry industry, starting when the workforce primarily consisted of white females, and continuing to the "civil rights boycotts and protests that followed". Eventually, the article explains, "[b]y the end of the 1960s, black workers predominated on the lines."

With an increase in chicken consumption in the United States in the 1980s, however, those running the plants started looking for "cheaper and more exploitable workers", in the words of Angela Stuesse, "an associate professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina and author of the 2016 book 'Scratching out a Living: Latinos, Race, and Work in the Deep South'", who was quoted by the Times.

Those workers were predominantly Latin American immigrants, and the Times reports that the predecessor to Koch Foods at the Morton plant, B.C. Rogers Poultry, started "organiz[ing] efforts to recruit Hispanics from the Texas border as early as 1977." Before long, B.C. Rogers "was operating an effort it called 'The Hispanic Project'", in which it "br[ought] in thousands of workers and hous[ed] them in trailers."

After the August operation, however, the plant went looking for new workers, and the Times article notes that workers left lower-paying jobs in fast food and other businesses to take the jobs. It also reported that "potential hires were [now] being subjected to strict identification checks."

Sometimes, apparently, even good news for American workers (both native-born and those who immigrated legally) is too much for the Times, and the article provides plenty of anecdotes about the challenges facing the unauthorized workers who were arrested during the August operation, as well as complaints from members of the local African-American community about the way that the operation was handled, in addition to the quotes from the lawful workers at the plant referenced by Issues and Insights, above.

The most interesting part of the Times article, however, is the following admission:

A 2016 study on the effects of immigration on the U.S. economy found that immigration had "little long run effect" on U.S. wages. But some wonder whether Hispanic immigrants displaced black workers in central Mississippi, the heart of the state's multibillion-dollar chicken industry.

The "2016 study" in question, treated by the Times as the penultimate word on the subject, was a nine-page "Brief" published by the Wharton Business School without a listed author. Its findings are contrary to years of research from the Center for Immigration Studies, as well as studies that the Center has recently reviewed. And, as I have explained in the context of the Mississippi ICE operation and the congressional complaints thereto (with a little help from Karl Marx), "Illegal Immigration Abets the Exploitation of Workers."

The Times article does, however, strongly suggest that unauthorized immigrants "displaced black workers in central Mississippi, the heart of the state's multibillion-dollar chicken industry", and that the ICE operation has allowed at least some of them to retake those jobs.

As ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) explained in its press release about the August operation:

HSI is the federal law enforcement agency responsible for upholding the laws established by the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which requires employers to verify the identity and work eligibility of individuals they hire. These laws help protect jobs for U.S. citizens and lawful U.S. residents, eliminate unfair competitive advantages for companies that unlawfully hire an illegal workforce, and strengthen public safety and national security.

Whether any of the companies involved "unlawfully hired an illegal workforce" is yet to be determined. The Times quotes ICE spokesman Bryan Cox, who states that the "criminal investigation into the operation and hiring practices at all of the Mississippi plants" is continuing. It is apparent, however, that the agency's enforcement of the law has helped "protect jobs for U.S. citizens and lawful U.S. residents."

And that is good news, in and of itself.