If You Want Less Income Inequality, then Enforce Immigration Law

By David North on September 13, 2019

As a man of the Left, I am frustrated with my political soul-mates who say that they are vehemently in favor of reducing income inequality, but show no interest (at best) in immigration law enforcement.

Let's look at the economic basics here: One obvious way to reduce income inequality is to increase tax collections on rich individuals and corporations; the Left understands this. Another way is to increase the power of labor unions; again the Left gets that point. Another way is to reduce the size of the labor force, or to keep it constant, as the number of jobs increases.

The Left used to understand that, but no more. I recall the late Howard Samuels, then-president of the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO, telling me again and again that there is nothing better for the workingman than a tight labor market. He knew that illegal aliens were flooding the labor market and thus depressing wages.

The current posture of the AFL-CIO, and the Left generally, is that they want to raise wages and, simultaneously, are opposed to serious immigration law enforcement. They see illegal aliens as powerless individuals and potential members, but not as lawbreakers who are best friends (unwittingly, to be sure) to exploitative employers. There is a major inconsistency here.

Further, while I think raising taxes on the rich is a good idea, its impact on an individual worker is indirect, slow to happen, and too hard to measure. The removal of a single illegal alien and the replacement of that worker by a citizen worker, provides a tangible and immediate benefit for the citizen. She or he suddenly has a new job.

These thoughts occurred to me as I looked over another (to me commendable) tool of the Left, a class action suit, this time against a particularly unattractive group of employers: the operators of poultry slaughterhouses. That federal case was filed on August 30 and is a major one with oodles of public-interest lawyers suing a large number of employers. I wish it well. It carried with it (in a 77-page brief) this description of the workforce being exploited:

121. Many of the workers recruited and hired by Defendant Processors are migrant workers, refugees, asylum-seekers, immigrants employed under EB3 visas, prison laborers, and participants in court-ordered substance abuse programs. In a 2015 report, Oxfam America wrote, "The poultry industry has a complicated history of tapping marginalized populations for its workforce. ... Of the roughly 250,000 poultry workers in the US, most are minorities, immigrants, or refugees, and a significant percentage is female."

122. For example, Norman Beecher, a former Human Resources manager for Defendant Case Farms LLC, actively recruited refugees from the Guatemalan civil war. Mr. Beecher explained to historian Leon Fink, "I didn't want [Mexicans]. Mexicans will go back home at Christmastime. You're going to lose them for six weeks. And in the poultry business you can't afford that. You just can't do it. But Guatemalans can't go back home. They're here as political refugees. If they go back home, they get shot ."

Two comments are in order:

  1. While it is perfectly true, as Beecher said, that some nationalities are more vulnerable than others, the civil war in Guatemala ended 23 years ago.
  2. The list of workers by immigration classes – "migrant workers, refugees, asylum-seekers, immigrants employed under EB3 visas" — is hopelessly incomplete.

"Migrant workers" is a useless, catch-all phrase without legal meaning. "Refugees and asylum-seekers" are useful, legally meaningful terms and "immigrants employed under EB3 visas" are about as rare as hen's teeth, as we will show shortly.

What is breathtaking in this little listing of exploited workers is the total absence of any mention of illegal aliens. This is probably the largest single grouping of poultry workers, as was shown dramatically, two weeks before this case was filed, by a raid of historic proportions on five large poultry firms, including two entities — Koch Foods and Peco Foods — that are on both the raided and the sued lists of malefactors.

This was the lede in an industry publication's story on that raid:

Immigration officials have raided multiple chicken plants in Mississippi, detaining 680 workers in what officials are calling the largest single-state sting in American history.

As part of an ongoing criminal investigation, 650 agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) executed federal search warrants at seven processing facilities outside Jackson, Mississippi, seizing business records and rounding up hundreds of workers who the agency said were unlawfully working at the plants.

This raid took place 15 days before the class action filing, and involved two of the numerous companies sued by the lawyers. It was well publicized. My assumption is that the lawyers knew about the raid and, simply out of ideology, decided not to mention the illegal alien workforce in these plants.

The "EB3" Workers. I use quotation marks here because these liberal lawyers have made exactly the same minor error that President Trump has made in another immigration connection; he called H-1B workers, "H1B workers", suggesting, in both cases, a lack of knowledge about foreign worker programs. The correct term, EB-3, is for the third class of employment-based immigrants; if one has an EB-3 document, one has a green card, indicating permanent resident alien status.

The lawyers in this case may have encountered a few honest-to-God EB-3 workers in their fieldwork, or maybe they read the one article I have seen, after much research, on the subject. It is a commendable piece of reporting, but without any sense of scale. The December 18, 2017, article by Michael Grabell for ProPublica was headlined: "Who would pay $26,000 to Work in a Chicken Plant?". The text began: "Chicken plants have recruited thousands of foreign workers in recent years through a little-known program to fill jobs they say Americans won't do."

Apparently some crook in Korea collected the $26,000 from an emigrant, as he steered him into an EB-3 visa.

I am sure that ProPublica, a very useful source of news, found some EB-3 workers in some chicken plants, but there cannot be many of them, for two reasons: The first is that only about 1,500 workers in this class are admitted or adjusted each year. Some to many of the EB-3s are working elsewhere, one must assume. See the table below:

Admissions and Adjustments of EB-3
"Needed Unskilled Workers" 2008-2018

Fiscal Year New Arrivals Adjustees Totals
2008 129 1,783 1,912
2009 193 1,015 1,208
2010 1* 2,042 2,043
2011 517 860 1,377
2012 662 1,109 1,771
2013 621 722 1,343
2014 322 759 1,081
2015 354 487 841
2016 758 757 1,515
2017 367 1,002 1,369
Totals 3,924 10,536 14,460

* DHS, out of an obsession with privacy, records 1 and 2 as D;
we decided it was 1 in this case.

Source: Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008-2017,
Table 7, U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The other reason for the small number of EB-3 workers in the poultry houses is the fact that these workers — unlike either illegal aliens or workers in the H-2 classes — are not bound to their employer, no matter what the employer may have told them; they have green cards and have the legal right to leave these jobs if they so desire.

So here we have the liberal lawyers and the liberal media focusing on this tiny group of legal immigrants, when they should — in the chicken business and elsewhere — pay the most attention to America's illegal aliens.

Our story today, about this tiny group of legal immigrants, the EB-3s, is a reflection of the broader theme of what is truly depressing the lower levels of our labor markets: not a handful of people with obscure visas, but the millions of illegal workers.

For the full text of the filing against the poultry firms, see the class action complaint at case 1:19-cv-02521-ELH in the PACER electronic documents system; it was filed in the federal courts in Maryland.