Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Refugees and diversity visa immigrants head to Cargill pork plant in Beardstown, Illinois

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 27, 2012

Refugees and diversity visa immigrants fill the Cargill pork plant in Beardstown, Illinois. Lower wages and increases in work speed – with a resultant skyrocketing in injuries – made the jobs unattractive for most white skilled workers since the 1980’s. Turnover at the plant was 72 percent in 1990. Base salary at the Beardstown plant, however, is now a whopping $13.65 an hour (these are the type of jobs that the anti-immigrant crowd claims that refugees and immigrants are taking away from Americans). An article at the Reuters news service has the details:

(Reuters) – Two years ago, Bozi Kiekie taught English at a university in the Congo. Although he liked his work, he wasn’t earning enough to make a good life for his family.

So Kiekie, 44, entered a lottery for one of 55,000 annual visas to enter the United States. When he won a so-called diversity visa, he came to Illinois, where he found a job cutting out hog tongues at the meatpacking plant in Beardstown, a small river town about 200 miles southwest of Chicago.

“Leaving a teaching position and pulling tongues – that’s a big gap,” said Kiekie, who talks with his wife and three young children by Skype or phone every day. But he said he and the other immigrant workers at Cargill’s pork plant – more than 900 of them from 34 countries – are willing to work hard at just about anything for a better life in the United States.

The Cargill plant and the community that depends on it are emblematic of two changes in U.S. immigration. The first is the shift of job-seeking immigrants from big cities like Chicago and New York to rural and suburban areas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The second is the crackdown on illegal immigration, primarily affecting workers from Mexico and Central America. Companies looking for legal labor are increasingly hiring workers with diversity visas, offered via a lotto system to countries with low immigration to the U.S. or refugee status from a variety of nations, according to immigration experts…

…Beardstown, with a population of about 6,000…[the] main employer is the Cargill plant, a 430,000-square-foot concrete slaughterhouse that turns almost 20,000 hogs a day into meat. Trucks roll in filled with squealing hogs from surrounding farms; refrigerated trucks leave with meat. On a warm day the smell of manure is staggering…

…Cargill is the biggest private company in the United States and the third-largest U.S. meatpacker, shipping meat from Midwestern plants to food distributors around the world.

The Beardstown plant used to be run by Oscar Mayer, which closed it in 1987. Cargill reopened it in 1987 and offered lower wages – $6.50 an hour instead of $8.75, according to a November 2011 report by Faranak Miraftab, a professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

Lower wages, along with increases in work speed and injuries – a trend in meatpacking plants across the Midwest in the late 1980s – made jobs less attractive for most white skilled workers, according to immigration experts. Turnover at the plant was 72 percent in 1990, according to Cargill.

Wages have since come back: Base salary at the Beardstown plant is now $13.65 an hour, according to workers…

…Africans started coming to the plant 10 years ago, but most have arrived in the past three years…A few are refugees, but the vast majority are here on diversity visasRead more here

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