April 3, 2006


Town's-Eye View of Immigration Debate: In Ga., Influx Fills a Gap in Workforce (Peter Slevin, April 3, 2006, Washington Post)

GAINESVILLE, Ga. -- [...]

City schools are now 55 percent Hispanic. More children arrive each day with their undocumented parents, often directly from Mexico. The Yellow Pages include 41 pages in Spanish. St. Michael Catholic church, which once drew 25 people to a monthly Spanish Mass, now has 6,000 Hispanic families on its parish registry. [...]

Gainesville advertises itself as "the poultry capital of the world" and it is the chicken-processing plants that are driving much of the city's startling growth. Since 1990, the official population has nearly doubled to 32,000 and the number of Hispanics has quadrupled to compose nearly half the registered population -- and far more when illegal immigrants are considered.

When the shift changes at the factories on Industrial Boulevard, hundreds of workers in hairnets stream through the doors of Koch Foods and Pilgrim's Pride. Their origins are reflected in the Spanish banter, the salsa tunes blasting from car radios, and the young ice cream vendor who calls his cart La Paleteria Lulu.

"Reality speaks and it says that, absent Hispanic workers, we could not process chicken," said Tom Hensley, chief financial officer for Gainesville's largest chicken plant, Fieldale Farms. "There aren't enough native American people who want to work in a chicken plant at any wage. We'd be put out of business."

A dozen years ago, Fieldale employed fewer than 100 Hispanics. Today, Hispanics total 3,000 in a 4,700-person workforce that transforms live birds by the thousand into boneless chicken flesh. To win jobs that start at about $10 an hour, applicants must present at least two identity documents from a government list of 18.

"If the documents appear to be legitimate, we accept them," Hensley said.

Two workers said they got jobs at Fieldale with fake documents, a practice considered an open secret. One longtime laborer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he is counting on Congress -- "in a free country, a democracy" -- to design a compromise that legalizes needed and reliable undocumented residents.

...that's a pretty good deal

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 3, 2006 8:40 AM
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