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How an ICE raid crippled a rural Georgia town

The New York Times carried an AP story of the economic and social impact of an ICE raid in a poultry plant in a small town in southeast Georgia. “This Georgia community of about 1,000 people has become little more than a ghost town since Sept. 1, when federal agents began rounding up illegal immigrants. The sweep has had the unintended effect of underscoring just how vital the illegal immigrants were to the local economy.”

More than 120 illegal immigrants have been loaded onto buses bound for immigration courts in Atlanta, 189 miles away. Hundreds more fled Emanuel County. Residents say many scattered into the woods, camping out for days. They worry some are still hiding without food. Last month, the federal government reported that Georgia had the fastest-growing illegal immigrant population in the country. The number more than doubled from an estimated 220,000 in 2000 to 470,000 last year.

My posting with Pew Hispanic data says that in early 2005 there were about 165,000 illegal immigrant workers in the state. Assuming a 65% workforce rate, 470,000 might be a stretch. OK, and so…

Since the mid-1990s, Stillmore has grown dependent on the paychecks of Mexican workers who originally came for seasonal farm labor, picking the area's famous Vidalia onions. Many then took year-round jobs at the Crider plant, with a workforce of about 900. Crider President David Purtle said the agents began inspecting the company's employment records in May. They found 700 suspected illegal immigrants, and supervisors handed out letters over the summer ordering them to prove they came to the U.S. legally or be fired. Only about 100 kept their jobs.

So it was the 100 remaining who were effectively targeted.

The poultry plant has limped along with half its normal workforce. Crider increased its starting wages by $1 an hour to help recruit new workers.

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