Immigration officials raided the Swift plant in Marshalltown last week and I've since thought quite a bit about how I feel on the issue. As always, my thoughts are scattered and I have trouble bringing them together for a solid conclusion.
I grew up without any real exposure to anything other than white america. I have two cousins who are half Puerto Rican but I can honestly say I never noticed a color difference between them and I.
I thought I was color blind and free of prejudice until I moved to Kansas City at the age of 19. A good friend of mine and her boyfriend were attacked by a group of Mexicans and her boyfriend was stabbed in the chest with a machete. He barely survived the attack and out of that trauma was born a deep resentment towards Mexicans. It was my only true life experience thus far and it left a big mark.
I'd never been exposed to that sort of violence and my simple little
brain joined it up as violence = Mexicans. If people discussed racism I would claim I was only prejudiced against Mexicans. Thinking back, I almost wore it like a badge. How naive we are in our 20s when life hasn't really even begun.
When Christopher was little, our small town was just beginning to have a Mexican population. A small family of them moved into a tiny house behind ours to work on the new corporate pig farms. My uncle, who lives where migrant workers are common place, warned that where there were three, there would soon be a dozen as they sent money home for their family to join them. I didn't think that would happen but it did. Soon they were spending all their time outside in the back yard because the house was too small to hold them.
I learned that they slept inside but the outside was their living room. The men left very early for work and the women and children stayed behind. There was a grandmother type who seemed to work tirelessly at washing clothes in a wringer washer and hanging them on the line to dry. If she wasn't doing that she was beating rugs or working in the garden. No adult ever just sat around except on Sundays. Sundays would find them gathered under the oak tree, telling stories and laughing. Their kids were well behaved and didn't even seem to be tempted by the large quantity of toys in our yard or the swing set. Over the years of watching them I realized that they were hard working family people just like us. They were only different in language and the fact that their work was very hard manual labor that I'd not want to do.
Which brings me to the meat packing industry. Have you seen the video of what happens inside those plants? Has to be about the grossest thing ever. Early in our marriage my former husband went around to these plants in the midwest and cleaned out the rendering equipment. His clothing would smell so bad that we often just threw it away and bought new. My cousin worked on the kill floor in one for awhile and the stories she would tell would make you eat veggies only for weeks. Yuck! Thankless, disgusting work that makes it so the rest of us can just drop by the store and pick up a steak for our weekend BBQ.
The migrant workers who come to walk beans and detassel corn, not many people line up for that job. I did it as a teenager and it's hot and you end up covered in bug bites. Again, the Mexicans will do that job without complaint so that their families can have a better life in our great country.
The conflicting part for me is that I spent many years working in the legal profession and I have a strong sense of right and wrong. Coming here illegally is wrong and the easiest reaction is to say "Send them back!" That is good in theory but in the real world they have often settled their families here and many have American born children. I read a comment today referring to these American born children as "anchor babies". What a horrible thing to say! That insinuates they come here with the express intent of having children to give them a better chance of staying. Personally I find that ridiculous and offensive. I believe they come here, take jobs that most of us wouldn't stoop so low to do, start or continue making their family, support our economy and most live as law abiding citizens.
I don't know the answer but I don't think it is to raid them at the workplace, scare the bejeesuz out of them, worry their families, stress our already overloaded foster care system with children whose parents have been taking good care of them, etc. I think we need to get a better handle on the border situation and reform the immigration laws to make it easier for hard working, law abiding individuals to come here and provide a service in exchange for a decent wage.
Another thing that I struggle with is the concept of immigration as a whole. Due to my physical locale, I can only speak to what I know for my region. That is 100% confined to mexican farm laborers. I'm sure other regions deal with other nationalities and work forces. I've read of chinese immigrants sneaking here in shipping containers aboard cargo ships but the only chinese immigrant I know is my coworker. She and her husband came here legally and have spent a decade working hard in their fields, she a programmer and he a scientist, going through a ridiculous amount of hoops to become citizens. They are awesome people and would probably make better citizens than half of us born here with the right to be Americans.
As for the identify theft angle of the story, when they steal anothers identity via a social security number, doesn't it stand to reason that any monies earned by an illegal would fatten the victims social security earnings? I mean the packing plants surely withhold these taxes and send them to the government for deposit into the social security account of the victim, right?
It has taken me the better part of four hours to write this as I'm interrupted often so I've not proofread and I know I've got grammatical errors but I hope I've got my point across. Taking hard working people from their jobs in the middle of the work day and keeping their families in the dark as to where they are is wrong. Leaving young children, even nursing infants, without their mothers is wrong. Everything about this raid was just wrong.
Now, those of you who throw around such terms as "anchor babies" will surely bitch if the worker shortage is enough that the price of your steak goes up. Go to the kill floor and cut off your own damn meat. I bet things won't be so black and white in your mind any longer.