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Immigration raids yield jobs for legal workers

ByABC News
September 13, 2009, 11:22 PM

— -- When federal agents descended on six meatpacking plants owned by Swift & Co. in December 2006, they rounded up nearly 1,300 suspected illegal immigrants that made up about 10% of the labor force at the plants.

But the raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents did not cripple the company or the plants. In fact, they were back up and running at full staff within months by replacing those removed with a significant number of native-born Americans, according to a report by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS).

That was the most extreme example of what has become an increasingly common result of the raids: "They were very beneficial to American workers," according to Vanderbilt University professor Carol Swain.

"Whenever there's an immigration raid, you find white, black and legal immigrant labor lining up to do those jobs that Americans will supposedly not do," said Swain, who teaches law and political science.

Exactly who is filling the jobs has varied, depending on the populations surrounding the plants:

Out West, one of the Swift plants raided by ICE, had a workforce that was about 90% Hispanic both legal and illegal before the raids. The lost workers were replaced mostly with white Americans and U.S.-born Hispanics, according to the CIS.

In the South, a House of Raeford Farms plant in North Carolina that was more than 80% Hispanic before a federal investigation is now about 70% African-American, according to a report by TheCharlotte Observer.

Throughout the Great Plains, a new wave of legal immigrants is filling the void, according to Jill Cashen, spokeswoman for the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents 1.3 million people who work in the food-processing industry. Plants are refilling positions with newly arrived immigrants from places such as Sudan, Somalia and Southeast Asia.

Recession plays a factor in shift

Steven Camarota of CIS said native-born Americans are not only willing to take on those jobs, but currently fill a majority of them.