January 28, 2010

WHICH IS WHY YOU HAVE TO LAUGH WHEN NATIVISTS CLAIM IT'S ONLY LEGAL STATUS THEY CARE ABOUT:

A modern tale of meatpacking and immigrants: Grand Island, Neb., has long been a revolving door of immigrants, from Vietnamese and Bosnians to Latinos and Sudanese. But with Somali Muslims came a whole new set of conflicts. (Kate Linthicum, January 28, 2010, LA Times)

It was still dark when dozens of federal agents, guns drawn, swept into the gray, windowless buildings at Swift & Co. just before Christmas 2006.

They were Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents taking part in a six-state sting, and they had warrants to search for undocumented workers.

Like most of the nation's slaughterhouses, the Grand Island plant had always been a revolving door for immigrants.

Meatpacking is hard, dangerous work; the Department of Labor says it results in more injuries than any other trade. But it doesn't require workers to speak English, and in Grand Island it pays a starting wage of $12.25 an hour.

Ads placed in immigrant newspapers across the country had drawn war refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in the 1970s and from Croatia and Bosnia in the 1990s.

Most made some money and moved on.

But many Latino immigrants, who started arriving in large numbers in the 1980s, stayed. They launched Spanish-language radio programs, founded churches, set up taco trucks. And unlike earlier immigrants who were legal refugees recognized by the U.S. government, many Latinos had crossed the border illegally.

When immigration agents came to town in 2006, Latinos comprised up to 11% of Grand Island's 45,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

On the day of the raid, agents detained more than 200 of the plant's 2,500 workers. Another 200 Latinos from the evening shift, apparently fearful of deportation, promptly quit.

In town the raid triggered an eruption of resentment.

When Latinos marched in protest afterward, some townspeople lined the streets with a counter-demonstration, holding signs that read, "Go back to Mexico, wetbacks." The local newspaper was filled with venomous letters to the editor decrying Latino immigration.

"A lot of people don't like the Latinos, they just don't," said Jeff Fulton, a Grand Island native who has worked at the plant for 25 years. Latinos faced more discrimination than previous immigrants because they had put down roots, he said. One only had to drive down 4th Street, past La Solomera Guatemalan import store and El Tazumal Mexican restaurant, to see their influence.

"There has been more bigotry," Fulton said, "because there has just been more and more and more of them."

The emotions unleashed by the raid would soon find a new target -- Sudanese and Somalis attracted by the promise of work at the meatpacking plant.

The new immigrants, who had been granted refugee status because of strife in their homelands, posed new challenges to the status quo in Grand Island.

They were black, and some were Muslim.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 28, 2010 6:37 AM
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