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Immigration And The Poultry Industry

Here is a piece that points out that Delaware’s poultry-processing plants depend heavily on immigrants, many of whom are suspected of being illegal. It is a useful reminder that the immigration issue, which we have dealt with here, here and here, affects more than the produce industry. But whether it is poultry or produce, the problem is the same:

The work is hard, and the poultry companies say nonimmigrants aren’t willing to take jobs that start at $8 an hour and rise to $9.70 an hour after an initial probationary period.

In Georgetown, Delaware, the focus of this story, after an initial period of upheaval, there seems to mostly be an accommodation to a massive influx of Guatemalans:

“The key is they were willing to work. People will forgive a lot if they see people are willing to work,” said Carlton Moore, a local developer and community leader who is active in building housing for the immigrants. “They have filled a need. We would have a very difficult time without them.”

And certainly the poultry industry is dependent on them:

Perdue Farms Inc. employs 1,300 workers at its Georgetown plant, and 80 percent to 85 percent are immigrants or the children of immigrants, almost all from Guatemala, said Gary Miller, regional human-relations manager for the company. At Perdue’s Milford plant, 60 percent to 65 percent of the 1,200 workers are immigrants from 15 nations.

But it is still a hot issue:

Republicans John Jaremchuck, an Elsmere councilman running for the state legislature, and Jan Ting, a Temple University law professor running for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Tom Carper, have made illegal immigration prime campaign topics.

“It’s not the job of the American government to supply a constant supply of low-wage workers for big businesses,” said Ting, whose parents emigrated from China during World War II. “Big business loves illegal immigration because it suppresses the wages of American workers, too… Do we care about the less-skilled, less-educated American workers?”

Still, you listen to a local elementary school principal talk, and it doesn’t seem like these immigrants are all that different from the past:

“The parents come in and they don’t ask, ‘How are my child’s grades?’ They ask, ‘How is my child behaving?’” The school was just named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education, one of three schools in the state and 250 in the country to be recognized for strong academic progress.

Many of the town’s Hispanic elementary students gather after school at La Casita, on the edge of Kimmeytown, for homework help. There, one of the parent leaders, Yolanda Diaz, an undocumented Guatemalan who has been here for 13 years, said it was important that her three sons, Jesus, Edward, and Manuel, do well in school.

“I don’t want them to work in a chicken plant like I do,” she said. “It’s hard there.”

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