The ICE raids of seven poultry processing facilities in Mississippi led to the detainment of approximately 680 removable aliens who were deemed to be unlawfully working at the plants.
A&B, Inc., Koch Foods of MI, Pearl River Foods, Peco Foods and PH Food Inc., all saw plants raided by ICE and had employees detained. None of the businesses reported a major disruption to production, although some were forced to move quickly to replace their depleted workforce.
It has since been reported by the Washington Post that some of the businesses in question were aware that some workers were not eligible to work in the US when they hired them.
Under US law, companies shown to be knowingly violating the employment law by hiring at least 10 people not authorized to work for a year-long period can be fined as much as $3,000 per undocumented worker and/or imprisoned for as long as six months. Due to the ongoing nature of the investigation, no comment has been provided on whether or not these businesses will be prosecuted.
One of the poultry businesses raided, Koch Foods, said immigration laws are in need of reform. Spokesman Jim Gilliland said: “An employer like Koch Foods can also find itself in jeopardy of committing unlawful discrimination if it acts too aggressively in its effort to comply with the immigration laws.
“The raid by the government on Koch Foods resulted in a significant disruption of work and terrible impacts on the lives of many workers and their families. It is apparent from the affidavit related to Koch Foods that this raid was directed at individuals and not the company. The affidavit does not set forth legal violations by Koch Foods. The government's actions amount to serious government overreach under a framework of flawed and conflicting laws. These most recent events are yet another demonstration of the fact that existing immigration law and policy need serious reform.”
This sentiment was echoed by industry trade body the National Chicken Council (NCC). It wrote to US President Donald Trump highlighting the predicament the sector is in when it comes to employment legislation. It said: “We are not in a position to comment on any specific incident and do not presume to do so, but we do wish to express serious concern about the ability of employers to ensure that they do not inadvertently hire an individual who is not eligible for employment. The US chicken industry uses every tool available to verify the identity and legal immigration status of all prospective employees. Unfortunately, the government does not provide employers with a reliable verification method to prevent identity fraud and document falsification and confirm with confidence that new hires are legally authorized to work in the United States.”
Appealing to Trump’s history in the private sector, the NCC highlighted the flaws that exist within the system that it believes has created this situation.
“The US chicken industry uses every tool available but as recent events have shown, these tools have significant flaws. As a businessman yourself you understand the difficulty in securing a legal workforce and the disruptions to commerce that arise when the tools provided are inadequate.”
This problem is not unique to the US and permeates throughout the entire meat industry. Neighbour Canada recently launched a scheme to encourage more overseas workers to enter the meat industry. The Canadian Meat Council estimates the ongoing labour shortage is having critical impacts of lost sales for meat processors of CAD$750m annually, plus CAD$396m in lost sales for its value chain producers, also due to labour shortage, bringing the total economic impacts to the red meat sector to approximately CAD$1.15bn.
Australia and the UK also highlighted labour issues in the meat industry and have appealed for official support to help ensure a sustainable workforce.