Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 8.12.19
Just Outside Washington



President Trump recently ordered ICE to raid seven Mississippi plants owned by four companies -- Peco Foods, Koch Foods, PH Food and Pearl River Foods. The ICE raids arrested 680 gainfully employed workers who were undocumented migrants to this country.

Social Security Administration (SSI) estimated that in 2010, there were about 1.8 million migrants working in the U.S. with fake or stolen Social Security cards. The number is growing. SSI calculates that undocumented migrants paid $13 billion into the retirement trust fund in 2010 and received about $1 billion in benefits. There are other undocumented migrants working without fraudulent documentation.

The 680 arrested migrants were doing jobs that the companies have a hard time filling because the jobs are low pay and they are not a lot of fun. Having lived on farms, raised and processed chickens, I thought I would describe the process for those who have not shared this experience:

  • The chicken is restrained, and killed; my preferred method was to chop off the head with an axe;
  • The carcass is dipped into boiling water to loosen the feathers;
  • The feathers are pulled off; there are machines for this now, but we did it by hand;
  • The abdominal cavity is cut open and the internal organs removed; they need to be sorted to save the edible parts like the liver;
  • At this point in commercial processing, the inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspect each bird and its viscera;
  • The carcass is then washed and chilled;
  • Those that are to be sold as parts -- breast, thigh, drumstick, etc are cut up; and packaged for shipment and sale.
As I mentioned processing chickens into food to eat is not a fun job either in a processing plant or by hand. Not many people want to do these and similar jobs.

The H-2B visa program is supposed to supply temporary employees for jobs in agriculture, and other areas for which there are insufficient U.S. workers. These jobs can include those in chicken processing plants. However, the Administration is not granting sufficient visas. For example, in 2018 the Maryland crab industry could get only about 40 percent of the required visa workers to pick crabs. The result was that several crab plants in Crisfield, MD, closed and the price of crab meat went up.

The chicken and crab industries are not the only ones hurt by the inconsistent and arbitrary policies of the Administration. At the end of January, the US economy had 7.6 million unfilled jobs, most low skill, low pay and unpleasant, in farming, industry, construction, maintenance, health care and more. In 2017, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board warned Trump that his restrictions on immigration could hurt the economy. And it has. Trump’s businesses have had to terminate over 40 undocumented worker that they have employed for over 20 years.