All Quiet on Alabama Immigrant Front in Face of ICE Raids in Neighboring Mississippi
By Tom Gordon and Ginny MacDonald
It may have been an uneasy quiet for the large number of Hispanics among the 86,000 people employed in the Alabama poultry industry, but it has been quiet here since the 680 workers at Mississippi plants were arrested Wednesday by immigration authorities.
Several of the Mississippi plants where the arrests occurred are owned by a Tuscaloosa company.
The Alabama Poultry and Egg Association’s communications director, Huck Carroll, said Friday that the association is not aware of any ICE raids or other activity at the state’s processing plants.
Alabama is home to 19 “meat-type broiler processing plants, processing over 21 million broilers per week” for over 1 billion a year, the association says.
Alabama is second only to Georgia in the chicken business.
Carroll said he does not have an ethnic breakdown of the 86,000 employees in Alabama, but “it is not an insignificant amount” of Hispanics who start work at around $13.60 an hour.
It also has been quiet at DeKalb County’s Crossville High School, where the enrollment in its three grades totals about 590 students, with about 65 percent being Hispanic.
Many of the students’ parents work at poultry-processing plants in the surrounding area.
Classes for the academic year 2019-2020 started on Wednesday. Principal John Peppers said that nothing has seemed amiss, and added that most of his school’s Hispanic students have been in Crossville since the elementary grades.
“You could say they are more Americanized than they are anything,” he added.
Some Question Why Employers Are Not Arrested
Though things have proceeded normally in the face of neighboring-state raids, some are raising questions.
Birmingham immigration lawyer Freddy Rubio said he wonders why Homeland Security has never prosecuted an employer who hires illegal migrants: “You can walk into any chicken-processing plant in Alabama and identify undocumented employees.”
Peco Foods of Tuscaloosa owns some of the food-processing plants in Mississippi that were raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
Federal authorities say companies could be charged with knowingly hiring workers who are in the country illegally, and will be scrutinized for tax, document and wage fraud.
In a statement following the Mississippi arrests, PECO officials said they participate in E-Verify and are “fully cooperating with authorities in their investigation.”
E-Verify, dubs itself “business friendly,” and is run by the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Employers enter employee information into the web-based system, where government records are checked and answers given in from three to five seconds.
The state Poultry association’s Carroll said all of the poultry plants “have a very strict E-Verify setup.”
But, he cautioned, “E-Verify is only as reliable as the data that is in it.”
Alabama has 53,132 employers with 96,897 hiring sites, according to E-Verify
The Mississippi raid was the largest ever made by ICE. But Rubio said the mass raids do not send the warning that immigrant authorities want.
“Male teenagers who want to come here, they do not read the newspapers,” he said.
He accused ICE of only seeking publicity with the Mississippi arrests.
“They have released 300, telling them to self-deport, but ICE is not tracking or following those arrested to determine if they self-deport,” Rubio said.
In Alabama, 4.4 percent of the state’s 4.9 million people are Hispanic. In the Jefferson County school system, the number of Hispanic students in grades kindergarten through 12th rose from 8 percent of the estimated 36,000 students in 2008 to 10 percent in the 2018-19 school year.
Photo by Ted Eytan