Raids at the slaughterhouse: Who benefits?

Steven Greenhouse, a long-time reporter for The New York Times covering labor issues (remember when all papers had labor reporters?), has an excellent piece today on the impact of immigration raids in the South.

He looks at Smithfield Foods' giant hog slaughterhouse in Tar Heel, N.C., where more than 1,100 Latino workers have fled the plant since officials arrested 21 workers and held others at gunpoint nearly a year ago.

The result? According to Greenhouse, Smithfield is having to look harder to find new workers, shuttling in fresh employees who live over an hour away:

Around 1 p.m. each day, C. J. Bailey, a Smithfield worker, picks up Ms. Worley and 10 other employees in his big white van. They arrive at the plant around 2:15, and he drops them back home after 1 a.m.

Several of the newly hired workers in the van - they pay $40 a week for the ride - said they were thinking of quitting, unhappy about having to commute so far and work so hard. At the plant, where the pay averages around $12 an hour, many spend hour after hour slitting hogs' throats, hacking at shoulders and carving ribs and loins. At the end of their shifts, many workers complain that their muscles are sore and their minds are numb.

Smithfield's workers -- whether black or Latino, documented or not -- pay the highest price for these grueling and dangerous jobs; many quickly leave even though they have few economic options (Smithfield admits that 60% of workers quit within 90 days).

Immigration raids do nothing to improve this situation for workers. In reality, the costly raids end up separating families and tearing up communities -- all for a short-term solution to the long-term problem of immigration reform.

But Greenhouse's piece also points out that the raids aren't good for business, either. This echoes research done in the 1990s in Nebraska, where a state task force found that raids were decimating the meatpacking industry while doing little to address immigration problems.

High-profile ICE raids and deporting Latino workers may be politically expedient and good media candy for the Lou Dobbs anti-immigrant set, but it doesn't do much to help workers, and business doesn't like it, either. It's a costly approach that's not good for taxpayers, either.

So who really benefits?