Collateral Damage in the Immigration War

Imagine you’ve just given a year and a half of your life to serving your country in Iraq and come home to find that your pregnant wife and your toddler daughter have been forced to leave the United States and now the government won’t let them back in.

You sit at home waiting, but no one can give you answers when or if they will be allowed to return. You wait five months, long enough for your new baby to be born in a foreign country. But still, no one can give you answers.

That is what Aaron Thorsted of Salt Lake City, Utah, goes through every day. His story aired on KSL-TV there this week.

Why is the government preventing Johana Thorsted and their children from returning to the U.S.? Is she on some terror watch list? Does she have ties to radical organizations? Has she committed some heinous act that makes her a danger to our country?

No. Like thousands of others who have grown up here and know no other life but ours, Johana’s parents forced her to come to the U.S. from Guatemala illegally when she was a child. Aaron Thorsted knew her status when he asked her to marry him. He told KSL that Johana worried that he would reject her when he found out. But love doesn’t require a “green card,” and so Aaron promised her they would fix her problem. When Aaron was sent to Iraq, however, the process slowed down, since immigration officials are wary of Americans who want to sponsor spouses who aren’t actually living under the same roof.

Johana returned to Guatemala in what should have been the final step in adjusting her status. The couple expected she would have approval by the time Aaron came home from his tour in Iraq. But they are still waiting. And in December, their second child was born. This complicates matters because the child is not automatically an American citizen and now, too, must get permission to come to the U.S.

The Thorsteds’ disrupted lives are the consequence of Congress’ failure to resolve the dilemma of what to do with 12.5 million illegal aliens living here. But their personal drama is not the only consequence. Another story illustrates a different problem, one that has the potential to affect all of us.

In a front-page article, The Wall Street Journal reported this week on what happened after immigration officials raided a Georgia chicken processing plant last fall, hauling off 120 workers, with hundreds of other illegal aliens voluntarily leaving the area. The plant did what many anti-immigration groups say is the solution to becoming dependent on immigrant and illegal alien labor: It raised wages by more than a dollar an hour.

But the company still couldn’t attract enough employees, so it also sent buses to pick up American workers from nearby towns and set up dormitories for those who wanted to stay on site. The company nonetheless could only hire a fraction of the workers it needed, and new workers were far from ideal.

The company says that the workforce has turned over three times since the raid. Worse, production has plummeted. The immigrant workers produced an average of 80 pallets of poultry a day per six-person assembly line; the new workers produced only 45 pallets with 15 persons on the line.

The company is still short-handed by 300 people, so it is recruiting Laotian Hmong immigrants from Minnesota and Wisconsin and busing in felons on parole. In any case, with more expensive, less productive workers, the company will have to pass on its costs to consumers — or go out of business.

Magnify this problem by the thousands and you can see the impact on the U.S. economy.

Immigration restrictionists may think it is fine and dandy to keep Aaron Thorsted’s wife and children out of the country because Johana’s parents broke the law. And they say they’re willing to pay more for food so long as it deprives illegal aliens of jobs. But are they willing to pay companies’ actual costs, which in the Georgia case more than quadrupled? And would they rather these jobs simply disappear altogether, striking devastating blows to many local economies?

I doubt most Americans think this is a good bargain. But Congress has yet to wake up to the realities.