Raid proves immigration woes are real



By JACK Z. SMITH
McCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS
A month ago, federal agents raided meatpacking plants in six states, detaining 1,282 workers in a crackdown on illegal immigration. The raids were conducted in conjunction with an investigation into identity theft by illegal immigrants, including the use of Social Security numbers of U.S. citizens to get jobs.
The raids at six Swift & amp; Co. plants in Texas, Colorado, Utah, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota highlighted just how sadly dysfunctional our immigration system is, the harmful consequences of that dysfunctionality and how badly we need comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform.
The raids were justified. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials simply were enforcing federal law barring employers from hiring illegal immigrants.
The United States has experienced widespread illegal immigration in the past two decades, in part because of minimal workplace enforcement of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.
Although the Swift raids were warranted, it's nevertheless sad to ponder the consequences for arrested workers and their families. The workers not only lost their jobs, but they also face likely deportation and perhaps an emotionally wrenching separation from their families. Many came to America only because they were desperate for work -- and we practically invited them in by failing to enforce the law effectively.
With workplace enforcement being stepped up, businesses are paying a price. Swift was faced with temporarily suspending operations at its six plants, plus an urgent need to replace arrested workers.
Our dysfunctional immigration system also hurts native-born citizens who have seen wages stagnate or decline for many modest-paying jobs, in part because many illegal immigrants will work dirt-cheap.
Only three days after the raids at Swift's plants (including its Texas Panhandle facility in Cactus), 18 ex-Swift employees who are U.S. citizens sued the company for 23 million, claiming that it conspired to depress wages by hiring illegal immigrants, The Associated Press reported. The suing employees had worked at Cactus.
Greeley, Colo.-based Swift and HM Capital Partners, the Dallas investment firm that owns it, said the lawsuit was "completely without merit." But an attorney for the 18 workers said wages had dropped from about 20 an hour when the plant opened to 12 to 13.
I've never bought the line that illegal immigrants "take only jobs that Americans don't want." Before the wave of illegal immigration, many of those "unwanted" jobs were held by native-born Americans.
Threat to citizens
The dysfunctional immigration system also poses a threat to U.S. citizens who have been paying into Social Security for years, only to learn that illegal immigrants have used their Social Security numbers to get a job or secure a loan. Some Americans who have had identities stolen have spent many painful hours trying to nullify potential problems, including damage to their credit rating if their Social Security numbers were illicitly used for loans that weren't repaid.
On Wednesday, a federal grand jury in Dallas indicted -- on felony counts of identity theft -- 53 of the 295 workers who had been arrested in the raid at Swift's Cactus plant. All 53 were charged with false representation of a Social Security number, the AP reported.
As a practical matter, illegal immigration has had both positive and negative effects. Cheap immigrant labor has lowered prices to consumers for everything from restaurant meals to roof repairs. But illegal immigration also has substantially increased taxpayers' costs for public schools, healthcare, immigration enforcement and other government expenditures.
Congress should adopt comprehensive immigration reform that will increase legal immigration to ensure an adequate supply of workers and curb illegal immigration to minimize the various ills associated with it.
Many illegal immigrants who have been in America for a substantial time and proven themselves worthy should have a chance to remain here and attain citizenship, provided they meet certain requirements that could include paying fines.
For those Americans who still don't see the need for comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform, the Swift raids illustrate in multiple ways the harmful aspects of the current dysfunctional U.S. immigration system.
Jack Z. Smith is an editorial writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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