Remember those raids of Swift meatpacking plants across the country? Some 1,200 illegal aliens were rounded up at plants, including Worthington, Minn., and Marshalltown, Iowa. Thanks to the Worthington Daily Globe, we have a partial report on how the action that generated so much news coverage has panned out.
Of the estimated 230 people arrested at Worthington, 20 were indicted on criminal charges revolving around fake identification. The rest were deported or are still in the deportation hearing stage. Of the 20 criminal defendants, most were charged $100, sentenced to time served and deported.
The Globe reports: "Almost four months have passed since the day of the raids. A Swift employee who wished to remain anonymous said many of those who had supposedly been deported were back at work within weeks and had stepped back into their old lives without much interruption."
That sounds about right. The federal government does a huge sweep and after a matter of weeks everyone returns to normal. The feds look like they are doing their job, and the immigrants get back to work. It fools no one.
Against this backdrop Congress will work on a new immigration reform package. Yes, we need better border control. And people who are here illegally need to pay a fine and get proper ID. The most important, and simplest, part of the legislation should be figuring out how many immigrants we need to process meat in the Midwest or do landscaping in California and then allow that many in.
It is fine to ship hog carcasses to Mexico for further processing. The Mexican plants tell Swift how much they need, and we ship it. If capital, goods and services can move freely, why can't labor move relatively freely under the North American Free Trade Agreement?
If we make it too difficult for Mexican labor to reach the Midwest, someday the meatpackers will decide it is more efficient to ship corn to Mexico and raise the hogs there. It is already happening with further processing; we have seen the Tyson meat boxes from Iowa in Mexico awaiting the knife. Swift already has slaughter operations in Mexico.
The Globe goes on to report that the Swift workers were earning about $540 a week. They send home $1,200 per month to support the wife, children and ailing parents. These are not the sort of criminals we need to worry about. So let's have them pay their fine and call them legal residents -- maybe citizens someday.
Art Cullen is editor of The Storm Lake Times in Iowa, where this first appeared.
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