When hundreds of thousands of legal and illegal immigrants participated in the "Day Without Immigrants" boycott May 1, a number of meat-processing plants around the country voluntarily closed because of anticipated absences.
"Tyson Foods Inc., the world’s largest meat producer, shut five of nine beef plants and four of six pork plants in anticipation of widespread absences," the Associated Press reported. "Perdue Farms, the nation’s third-largest chicken producer, closed eight processing plants in seven states. Cargill Meat Solutions, the nation’s second-largest beef processor, gave more than 15,000 workers the day off and closed plants in six states."
While not naming any specific employers, Representatives Jack Kingston (R.-Ga.) and Marsha Blackburn (R.-Tenn.) reacted to reports of boycott-related plant closings by writing to Julie Myers, assistant secretary of Homeland Security for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to insist that her agency investigate to see if closed plants were hiring illegal aliens.
"We believe the federal government has an obligation to enforce the nation’s immigration laws and must actively investigate any and all instances where it is apparent industries have knowingly and willingly hired those who entered the country illegally," Kingston and Blackburn wrote. "U.S. Customs and Enforcement (ICE) should pursue the multiple reports in the news media today regarding companies which have been forced to halt operations because large numbers of their employers appear to be in the United States illegally and are participating in the protest rallies. ICE has an obligation to use this public information to enforce immigration laws."
Tyson issued a statement insisting it follows the employment law. "Tyson Foods has zero tolerance for employing people who are not authorized to work in the U.S.," the statement said. "We use all available tools provided by the U.S. government to help determine our Team Members are authorized to work in this country." The company says it even uses the Department of Homeland Security’s Basic Pilot program to check worker’s Social Security numbers. "The Basic Pilot is effective in helping us verify the Social Security numbers of the people we hire," the company said. "Unfortunately, the program has limitations. It does not currently help us in cases of identity fraud when an individual assumes someone else’s name by using their Social Security number."
I asked senators if they believed ICE should investigate the plants closed by Perdue, Tyson and Cargill to see if they are hiring illegal aliens.
On Monday, Perdue, Cargill and Tyson closed down some of their meat-processing plants because they thought too many people would be participating in the economic boycott. Do you think ICE should investigate those plants to see if they’ve been hiring illegal aliens?
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.): That’s up to you, dear. Thank you.
Tyson, Perdue and Cargill closed down some of their plants on Monday because they knew a lot of people would be participating in the boycott. Do you think ICE should investigate those plants and see if they’ve been hiring illegal aliens?
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D.-Calif.): There are 12 million people here illegally. They are working somewhere. Clearly, if you are going to start doing this you aren’t going to be able to deport everybody. There are so many people. Do I think they should at this time? No. What I think should be done is that we should pass a comprehensive reform bill. I feel about that very strongly—
So, ICE shouldn’t go after these plants?
Feinstein: There is no way to deport, because one, you’re going to have to do the law—
But, short of deporting shouldn’t the corporations—
Feinstein: It’s not just Tyson’s—
Shouldn’t the business have to do something?
Feinstein: That’s up to the department. What we need to do is pass a law. I don’t carry out the law, we make the law.
On Monday, Perdue, Cargill and Tyson closed down some of their plants because they thought too many of their workers would participate in the boycott. Should ICE investigate those plants to see if they’ve been hiring illegal aliens?
Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.): I don’t know. I have no idea what—I don’t keep track of that.
But they closed down because—
McCain: I don’t keep track of it. I didn’t even pay that much attention to what happened or what went on. I’ve got this issue on the floor and others. Maybe the lesson is that we need immigration reform.
On Monday a lot of plants from Tyson and Cargill closed down because of the boycott. Do you think ICE should investigate those plants to see if they’ve been hiring illegal aliens?
Sen. Teddy Kennedy (D.-Mass.): You’ve got to do whatever you want to do.
You’re from a big meatpacking state. Now, Tyson, Cargill and Perdue closed down some of their plants on Monday because they thought a lot of their workers would be participating in the boycott. Do you think ICE agents should be targeting those plants to see if they are hiring illegal aliens?
Sen. Barak Obama (D.-Ill.): Well, what I think is important is that there is a uniform system of enforcement, so what I wouldn’t want to see is immigration suddenly just deciding for political purposes or show we’re going to start raiding particular plants. You’ve got to give people some regular sense that here’s what the rules are. Everybody has got to follow them.
So, you don’t think that’s a sign that they should be investigated?
Obama: I guess what I’m saying is that right now enforcement is so random that choosing selectively one or two companies without some sort of comprehensive approach doesn’t make sense.
Perdue, Cargill and Tyson closed down some of their plants Monday because they were afraid a lot of people would be participating in the boycott. Should ICE investigate these plants for hiring illegal aliens?
Sen. Harry Reid (D.-Nev.): What’s ICE?
Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Reid: I talked to Steve Wynn today who has 7,000 employees in Las Vegas. He only missed two people, they were both sick, of the most of his Mexican-American workers. Everybody else came to work.
You think it’s a moot point that they closed down these plants?
Reid: I don’t know why they closed them. They didn’t have to in Vegas.
Well, Tyson said specifically it was because they thought people were going to miss. They asked people ahead of time…
Reid: If they are hiring, if these are plants with illegal, with people undocumented, they should take a look at it.
Reid: But they should follow the example of Las Vegas.
Perdue, Tyson and Cargill closed down some of their plants on Monday because they thought a lot of their workers would be participating in the boycott. Should ICE investigate those plants to see if they’ve been hiring illegal immigrants?
Sen. Ken Salazar (D.-Colo.): I don’t know anything about those particular plants. I think we need to enforce our immigration laws, and I think the statistics bear out that the last decade has been a period where immigration laws have not been enforced. I think just that in general we need to enforce our immigration laws and that’s part of what we are trying to do with passing illegal immigration reform law.