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VII. Immigrant Workers in the Meat and Poultry Industry

They have us under threat [bajo amenaza] all the time. They know most of us are undocumented—probably two-thirds. All they care about is getting bodies into the plant. My supervisor said they say they’ll call the INS if we make trouble.

            —Northwest Arkansas poultry plant worker

International Human Rights Standards and U.S. Law

All the workers’ rights covered so far in this report meet at a fault line in U.S. human rights and labor rights policy. On the edge of this fault, millions of fearful, vulnerable non-citizens work in our nation’s most dangerous, dirty and demanding conditions. All the abuses described in this report—failure to prevent serious workplace injury and illness, denial of compensation to injured workers, interference with workers’ freedom of association—are directly linked to the vulnerable immigration status of most workers in the industry and the willingness of employers to take advantage of that vulnerability. Although international human rights law mandates that all workers have basic rights that should be protected, including undocumented as well as documented workers, immigrant workers find that while their work is accepted, their rights are not.

As noted above, the protections of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ICCPR, and the ICESCR apply to “all persons” including immigrant workers regardless of legal status. Beyond these basic principles, the UN’s International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (1990) calls for “treatment not less favorable than that which applies to nationals of the State of employment” in pay, working conditions, and legal protections including rights to organize and bargain collectively.283

The Convention emphasizes that:

States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that migrant workers are not deprived of any rights derived from this principle by reason of any irregularity in their stay or employment. In particular, employers shall not be relieved of any legal or contractual obligations, nor shall their obligations be limited in any manner by reason of such irregularity.284

In two conventions dealing with migrant workers, the ILO proclaims the same principle of “treatment no less favorable than that which it applies to its own nationals” in the workplace, and the obligation “to respect the basic human rights of all migrant workers.”285

Federal agencies involved in workplace standards have taken some steps to ensure that workplace rights are taken into account in immigration enforcement. The Department of Labor’s Employment Standards Administration (DOL) has signed a memorandum of understanding with the federal immigration agency preventing DOL from making any inquiry into the immigration status of workers.

Operating instructions to immigration agency field staff dating from December 1996 require them to refrain from involving the federal immigration agency in labor disputes. Agents are instructed to determine whether information about unauthorized employment is being provided to the agency to interfere with the labor, health, and safety and other rights of documented or undocumented employees or to retaliate against employees for seeking to vindicate those rights. However, similar obligations do not exist for all federal agencies involved in enforcing workplace labor, health, and safety standards. Given the changes in the structure of federal immigration agencies and the nearly ten-year interval since the passage of those field instructions, training on the continued responsibilities of immigration authorities under these regulations should be reinvigorated.

The immigrant workers discussed in this report hold a variety of legal statuses, including some statuses conferring employment authorization. In this research, Human Rights Watch found that, in different contexts, the single term “immigrant” could be used to refer to:

  • non-citizens without permission to work who became undocumented because they have overstayed a visa;
  • undocumented workers without employment authorization because they entered the U.S. without permission;
  • undocumented non-citizens married to U.S. citizens or to green card holders who may not yet have adjusted their status to one that would allow them to work legally (which is their right);
  • refugees or asylees who are granted permission to work and to remain in the U.S. indefinitely;
  • temporarily protected persons, a designation that carries with it an automatic right to request work authorization; 286 or
  • green card holders with express permission to work in the United States.

Despite the fact that all of these immigrants are covered by national and international workplace rights standards and that many have permission to work in the United States, they often remain extremely vulnerable to employer coercion. Many documented workers cannot speak fluent English and are hesitant or afraid to navigate what they see as complex, costly procedures to vindicate their rights. A federal OSHA official said, “‘[Immigrant workers] just don’t know that they have rights and responsibilities,’ including the ability to complain against employers.”287

Many legal immigrants have family or other personal relationships with undocumented relatives or friends whom they want to protect. Many work alongside undocumented coworkers and do not want to get them in trouble or be caught up in circumstances in which authorities might not carefully distinguish among them. Thus, immigrant workers lawfully working in the U.S. may be as reluctant or as unable to vindicate their rights as undocumented workers

Of course, vulnerability is more acute for undocumented workers who come into the United States without work authorization and are liable to immediate deportation if they are found out. Undocumented workers shrink from exercising rights of association or from seeking legal redress when their workplace rights are violated for fear of having their legal status discovered and being deported. For the same reason, they rarely testify in legal proceedings even when their testimony is essential to another worker or group of workers seeking legal remedies. Fully aware of workers’ fear and sure that they will not complain to labor law authorities or testify to back up a claim, employers have little incentive against violating their rights.288

Immigration status is directly related to health and safety on the job. An Associated Press investigative report published in March 2004 revealed that Mexican workers in the United States are 80 percent more likely to die in the workplace than U.S.-born workers, and nearly twice as likely as the rest of the immigrant population to die at work.289  Moreover, the rate of Mexican workers’ deaths at work is increasing dramatically. Just ten years ago, Mexican workers were 30 percent more likely to die on the job than U.S.-born workers, about the same as other immigrants.

A 2003 independent report by the U.S. inspector general’s office found that OSHA has no comprehensive plan for dealing with the epidemic of immigrant worker fatalities. Among the report’s findings were these:

  • OSHA’s inspection priorities, reporting requirement, and fatality investigations do not distinguish between immigrant and non-immigrant workers . . . many of the compliance safety and health officers we interviewed noted that when a fatality involves non-English speaking employees, language barriers created problems.

  • OSHA was unable to provide the data needed to determine resources allocated to immigrant fatalities.

  • Because OSHA does not specifically target industries that primarily employ immigrants, it was unable to provide the information needed to determine the resources allocated to those industries.

  • OSHA’s training provisions do not address the different languages and literacy levels of immigrant workers. Further, we found that OSHA is not consistently evaluating its outreach efforts and has not developed a comprehensive strategy for reaching all non-English speaking employees, including undocumented immigrants.

  • Current penalty options available to OSHA may not serve as an effective deterrent to employers who have a willful disregard for employees’ safety and health.290

    Violations of immigrant workers’ rights is a national problem requiring a national policy response. The meat and poultry industry is not alone in its use of immigrant employees, nor should the industry be expected to unilaterally solve the problem. At the same time, however, the meat and poultry industry, like others, benefits from immigrant workers’ labor.291  The industry should do everything in the domain of its ample power to ensure that immigrant workers enjoy the same rights and benefits as those who are citizens.

    Increasing Immigration in Meat and Poultry Plants

    Millions of immigrant workers have entered the U.S. labor force in recent years. According to the most recent reports of the U.S. Census Bureau, about 12 percent of the U.S. population is foreign-born, more than thirty-three million people, compared with 8 percent of the population in 1990. More than half were from Latin America, and of these more than two-thirds came from Mexico and Central America.292

    Among the fifty states, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Nebraska, the sites of field research for this report, ranked first, fourth, and seventh in the percent increase in immigrant residents between the 1990 and the 2000 census. North Carolina went from about one hundred thousand immigrants in 1990 to half a million today. Arkansas and Nebraska nearly tripled their immigrant populations.293

    Latino workers are a majority in many meat and poultry plants. A university-based researcher who found work in a Tyson Foods poultry plant in Northwest Arkansas described the scene in a Tyson plant hiring office this way:

    I arrive at Tyson’s Northwest Arkansas Job Center in Springdale at 10 in the morning. . . . Signs surrounding the secretary’s desk say [in Spanish]: “Do not leave children unattended” and another warns: “Thank you for your interest in our company, Tyson Foods, but please bring your own interpreter.”

    As I turn to take a seat, I begin to understand her confusion. The secretary and I are the only Americans, the only white folk, and the only English speakers in the room. Spanish predominates, but is not the only foreign language. Lao is heard from a couple in the corner, and a threesome from the Marshall Islands are speaking a Polynesian language. Within less than two decades, the poultry industry has become a key site for “workers of the world” to come together in a region of the U.S.—the South—that received few foreign immigrants during the 20th century. Attracted by employment opportunities in the poultry industry, Latin Americans first began to enter northwest Arkansas in the late 1980s. Today, about three-quarters of plant labor forces are Latin American, with Southeast Asians and Marshallese accounting for a large percentage of the remaining workers. U.S.-born workers are few and far between.294

    As noted above, workers in the meatpacking industry hold a variety of immigration statuses, though many are undocumented and without permission to work. Estimates put the number of undocumented workers in the United States at more than eight million.295 Nearly 60 percent of them are migrant workers from Mexico.296 Many have been in the country for years working long hours for low pay in demanding, dirty, and dangerous jobs. They pay taxes, including Social Security taxes, from which they will never benefit. They are setting down roots and having children who are U.S. citizens. However, because of their vulnerable immigration status, they live in shadow and fear, unable and afraid to seek protection of their human rights and their rights as workers.

    Undocumented immigrants have come to the United States in massive numbers despite the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). IRCA granted amnesty to earlier arrivals but also authorized measures to stop the flow of new, undocumented immigrants by tightening border controls and adopting “employer sanctions” making it illegal for employers to hire undocumented workers.

    To prevent discrimination against legal workers who “look foreign” or who “don’t speak English,” IRCA law requires employers to do no more than examine documents such as: a U.S. passport, certificate of U.S. citizenship, alien registration receipt card with photograph (commonly known as a “green card”), certificate of naturalization, unexpired employment authorization card, unexpired reentry permit, or unexpired refugee travel document. If the documents appear genuine on their face, employers can offer employment and must not request additional documentary proof of the applicant’s immigration status. Some of these documents are easy to reproduce to appear genuine in appearance. The result is that undocumented workers find jobs, and employers find needed workers without facing sanctions.

    Looked at in one light, the results are benign. Immigrant workers find jobs paying much more than they could ever expect in their home country. U.S. employers find workers eager to do dirty, dangerous, and difficult labor. Consumers enjoy resulting low prices for food and other products and services in sectors where immigrant workers make up much of the labor force.

    Looked at in another light, however, the results are different. Immigrant workers suffer violations of their rights but are afraid to challenge them. Employers reap added profits from low-paid, easily exploitable labor. U.S. citizens and legal foreign-born workers in low wage occupations suffer downward pressure on their own wages and working conditions from the influx of immigrant workers who are too fearful to exercise workplace rights to organize and bargain for higher wages.297

    The meat and poultry industry reflects the dynamic of swelling immigration into low-wage, hazardous-work labor markets. Meat and poultry processing plants have to contend with rapid turnover in their workforces.298 Many new employees leave in the first days or weeks on the job, unable to cope with the pace and conditions of meat and poultry slaughtering work.

    Employers need a constant stream of new applicants. “The company pays us a bounty of two hundred dollars for a worker we recommend who stays at least three months,” said one worker.299  The three-month condition reflects a fact of meatpacking life: most of the high turnover phenomenon in the industry occurs in the first weeks of employment when workers react with their feet to the shock of working conditions in a plant, and decide to look for jobs in housekeeping, restaurants, or construction.

    The same university researcher quoted above who worked for Tyson described the hiring process this way:

    Tyson processes job applicants like it processes poultry. The emphasis is on quantity not quality. No one at the Job Center spends more than a minute looking at my application, and no single person takes the time to review the whole thing. … Efficiency rules. Bob begins and ends my “interview” with: “What can I do for ya?” I tell him I want a job at a processing plant, he makes a quick call, and in less than five minutes I have a job on the line. My references, which someone has already called, check out, and I pass both the drug test and the physical. I am Tyson material.

    I arrive at the plant the following Tuesday ready for work. It is massive and its exterior is put together much like the Job Center—quickly, cheaply, and piece by piece. At 3 p.m. sharp, Javier, my orientation leader, gathers up the new recruits and escorts us into a small classroom that contains a prominently displayed sign. “Democracies depend on the political participation of its citizens, but not in the workplace.” Written in both English and Spanish, the message is clear in any language.300

    Meat and poultry companies often find workers through what researchers call “ethnic network recruitment.”301  For example, some workers at Nebraska Beef came to Nebraska from West Coast agricultural labor centers after hearing about job openings from friends and relatives already in the Midwest. Others came directly from Mexico after getting word about jobs from friends or relatives from their village who were working at Nebraska Beef. According to one interviewed worker, most of the cleanup crew is from the same village in Nayarit state.302

    One worker told Human Rights Watch how he came to work at Nebraska Beef:

    I crossed the border and went to Wenatchee in August 1999 to pick apples. In January 2000 I saw the flyer in a laundromat and called the number. The guy told me to wait until he had fifteen people signed up, then he would send us to Nebraska on a Greyhound bus. When we got fifteen guys, he met with us to have us sign work contracts and give us bus tickets. A couple of guys said they didn’t have any documentation. The recruiter said, “It doesn’t matter, the important thing is that you work.”

    We rode fifty-four hours to Omaha. They gave us a $100 loan to get through the first few days, but we had to repay it from payroll deductions after we started working. When we went to the office to start work, they had us fill out more papers and talked to us for thirty minutes. Then they sent us out on the line. There was no training. They told us, “Do what the person next to you is doing.” 303

    Meat and poultry company officials deny they deliberately seek to hire undocumented workers or to exploit documented immigrant employees. In an interview with Human Rights Watch, Tyson Foods officials said,

    To comply with immigration law we have pumped up our hiring protocols. No one person hires any one person. We have been working with the Basic Pilot program since 1997.304  We have hired a third party to review our protocols, recommend changes, and audit for compliance.

    It is a myth that we are trying to bring in Hispanic employees at the expense of local workers, that we want Hispanic workers so we can exploit or mistreat them. That is absolutely untrue, total nonsense. The increase of Hispanic workers in our plants is a result of us needing workers and Hispanic workers needing jobs.

    Hispanic workers’ presence depends on location. There are some Arkansas counties where there are no Hispanic workers. Overall for the company about one-third of our line force is Hispanic. In poultry it’s about 25 percent.305

    Tyson workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Rogers, Springdale, and other Northwest Arkansas plants suggested much higher levels of immigrant labor in their plants, usually a majority. Tyson officials insisted that the company does not knowingly employ any undocumented workers. Nonetheless, Tyson employees and other poultry company workers in Northwest Arkansas interviewed by Human Rights Watch interviews said that they and many coworkers are not working with genuine authorization documents.

    Effects on Workers’ Rights

    The real-life consequences of workers’ immigration status spilled into every area investigated by Human Rights Watch for this report—health and safety, workers’ compensation, and workers’ organizing rights. One Smithfield Foods worker told Human Rights Watch, “In the packing department everything is fast, fast [rapido, rapido]. I was sick a lot from the cold and the damp. I never wanted to make a claim against the company because they fire people and they might call Immigration.”306 

    An Arkansas poultry worker told Human Rights Watch “They have us under threat [bajo amenaza] all the time. They know most of us are undocumented—probably two-thirds. All they care about is getting bodies into the plant. My supervisor said they say they’ll call the INS if we make trouble.”307 

    A worker at Nebraska Beef said, “[The top personnel manager] is a Mexican. He knows who is undocumented and who isn’t, and he holds that over us. He says ‘I know how you got here’ and ‘I know you don’t have papers but I’m going to take care of you.’ That just makes people afraid of crossing him.”308

    Workers’ vulnerable immigration status often frustrates their right to workers’ compensation. Employees who file workers’ comp claims in contested cases (where the company claims an injury is not work-related) know they have a long battle ahead of them. Still, many are not prepared for the obstacles that arise. One Nebraska Beef worker recounted his perception:

    If you hurt your back or your shoulder, something they can’t see, you go see the nurse. She tells you there’s nothing wrong and gives you Tylenol and says go back to work. If you’re still hurting they send you to the company doctor. He says you didn’t hurt yourself in the plant, go back to work.

    Then you go see a lawyer to file a claim. On the paper it says you have to sign your real name and swear to it. A lot of people stop right there. Their work name is not their real name. Then the word gets back into the plant, “they make you tell your real name.” So nobody wants to file even if they obviously get hurt in the plant.

    Then you go to a hearing in front of a judge. The company lawyers ask you how you got the job, are you here legally. People are afraid to answer.309

    In any workplace injury or labor rights proceedings, questions about immigration status have no bearing on the merits of the workers’ claims and serve no legitimate purpose.  For example, regardless of immigration status, workers are eligible for workers’ compensation for workplace injuries. Inquiry into immigration status during the proceeding serves only to transfer attention to possible wrongdoing by the worker (being in the country illegally) when the focus of the proceeding should be solely on whether the worker has rights as a worker that  have been violated.

    The possibility of an inquiry into workers’ documentation during a proceeding adjudicating their claims creates a dilemma for them. The questions are intimidating—and designed to be so. They force workers to choose between seeking legal recourse for wage and hour violations, health and safety violations, job discrimination, workplace injuries and illnesses, reprisals for union activity and other violations, on one hand, or exposing themselves, on the other hand, to dismissal and deportation by responding to such inquiries when they seek such recourse.

    Not surprisingly, they have a chilling effect on workers’ willingness to file claims. Because many workers in the meat and poultry packing industry  fear being faced with such questions, they refrain from pursuing legitimate claims and thus do not receive the medical care, rehabilitation support, and weekly income benefits that are due to them.

    A workers’ compensation attorney in North Carolina said:

    Companies know that their employees are unsophisticated, often illiterate, and often are not in this country legally. Many are simply too scared to report their injuries. Others are duped, sometimes purposefully and sometimes not, into signing documents, going to medical appointments with company-selected providers, submitting statements and the like when they have almost no idea why these things are happening.310

    Immigrant Workers and Organizing at Nebraska Beef

    One of the most telling accounts of the relationship between immigration status and workers’ rights came from Nebraska Beef workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch. A workers’ organizing effort was underway at Nebraska Beef in December 2000 when the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) raided the Nebraska Beef plant.311 The raid was part of its “Operation Vanguard,” the name given to 1999-2000 INS sweeps through Midwest meatpacking facilities to round up and deport undocumented workers.312

    The raid on Nebraska Beef was undertaken with no effort by the INS to communicate with the UFCW, which had told the INS of its organizing efforts in June 2000. Such failure to consult the union violated INS guidelines requiring agents to make “a reasonable attempt” to determine if a labor dispute (defined to include an organizing campaign) is underway before conducting any raids. The “Operating Instruction” also required the INS to take steps to avoid interference with workers’ freedom of association.313 

    This instruction came about after years of protest by workers and unions that the INS was being used as a union-busting device to break up organizing efforts. “We have operating instructions that very clearly say when a lead comes in, the local INS office needs to search out whether there is a potential to be misused,” said a top INS official.314

    A worker still employed at Nebraska Beef told what happened during the raid:

    It was early morning when they stopped the lines. The supervisors told us all to go upstairs because the INS was here to check on people’s immigration status. There was a feeling of panic because so many of us are undocumented. We couldn’t get out; the doors were blocked. A bunch of us hid in the coolers for more than two hours. We were freezing in there. Some other people hid in other places in the plant. We were the lucky ones. They deported more than two hundred workers.

    Seven of the employees detained in the Nebraska Beef raid were minors who used false documents showing they were older than 18. U.S. child labor laws prohibit work in meatpacking plants by anyone younger than 18. “They were obviously kids too young for the plant,” said an interviewed worker, “but the company didn’t care. They constantly needed bodies. Everything was production, production. Nothing else mattered.”315

    Another worker told what happened in the days following the raid:

    The next day the company had us back at work with the lines going the same speed as before the raid. But we were missing more than two hundred workers on the lines. They said they’d fire us if we didn’t keep up. A bunch of us went up to the office and told the plant manager, either slow down the line or pay us more money. They gave us fifty cents more an hour and told us to get back to work. Then over the next week or two they fired the five people who spoke up for us at the meeting.316

    The December 2000 INS raid at Nebraska Beef resulted in more than two hundred workers being deported. Federal prosecutors indicted three top company managers in human resources, personnel and production departments for criminal conspiracy in a scheme to recruit and transport undocumented workers from Texas and Mexico and for providing them false documents for work at Nebraska Beef. “We haven’t seen this type of scheme before,” said a federal government spokesperson, “not on this level.”317

    The prosecutors’ case collapsed in 2002 when a federal judge dismissed the indictment because the witnesses needed for both prosecution and defense in the case had all been deported. Without the testimony of workers actually caught up in the alleged labor smuggling scheme, prosecutors could not present sufficient evidence for a trial on the merits.318

    Immigrant Workers and Organizing at Smithfield Foods

    The status of immigrant workers was also a key factor in workers’ organizing efforts at Smithfield Foods’ North Carolina hog processing plant. At the time of the union election in the Tar Heel plant in 1997, UFCW organizers estimated that 20 percent of the workers were immigrant Hispanic workers. “We never asked, and we tried to tell them it didn’t matter, but the truth is that most of them were probably undocumented,” said union representative Jeff Greene.319

    Both UFCW staff organizers and workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that reaching out to Latino workers in the plants was “practically impossible” despite union efforts to involve Spanish-speaking organizers and attorneys to help in the campaign. “They just want to keep their heads down and not get noticed,” said Greene. “This is North Carolina; it’s not southern California or New York City where they have some community support.”320

    Anti-union consultants told Latino workers that the union was dominated by black workers and that the organizing drive was really an effort by African-Americans—the majority of employees at the plant—to get rid of Latino workers and take all the jobs for black people. They told the reverse to black workers. 

    Smithfield supervisor Sherri Bufkin confirmed the systematic use of such tactics in connection with the earlier election in the Tar Heel plant. She told a congressional committee looking into organizing abuses:

    Smithfield keeps Black and Latino employees virtually separated in the plant with the Black workers on the kill floor and the Latinos in the cut and conversion departments. Management hired a special outside consultant from California to run the anti-union campaign in Spanish for the Latinos who were seen as easy targets of manipulation because they could be threatened with immigration issues. The word was that black workers were going to be replaced with Latino workers because blacks were more favorable toward unions.321

    Fear among Legal Workers

    Not only undocumented workers are vulnerable and fearful. Many Nebraska Beef workers from Central America hold “temporary protected status” (TPS) based on immigration policies flowing from wars and natural disasters in their countries. TPS does not confer legal immigrant status or permanent residency, but it does allow TPS holders to obtain employment authorization and to extend that work authorization for the duration of the country’s designation as one whose citizens are entitled to TPS status, as well as during the pendency of a deportation or exclusion proceeding.322 Some of these immigrants entered the United States without proper documentation, but are allowed to remain while the situation in their home countries is in turmoil. Since their work authorization is linked to their country of origin’s designation under TPS, they are worried that such temporary protection could end at any moment.323

    A Nebraska Beef worker from Nicaragua told Human Rights Watch, “Since I got TPS I was able to come out in the open, get a license, open a bank account. I can use my real name, and so can my wife and my kids. But the government knows who I am and where I am. They could end TPS any time. Suddenly I’m illegal and they can deport me.”324

    Other immigrant workers, including some at Nebraska Beef, have obtained or are seeking legal residency under a variety of immigration provisions. Most of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch are proceeding under a section of U.S. immigration law called 245(i), which allows persons who entered the country without proper authorization to obtain legal permanent residence if they are a close family member of a U.S. citizen. For example, an immigrant who entered without documentation or who overstayed a visa, who later married a citizen, can legalize his or her status under 245(i) by paying a $1,000 application fee rather than having to return home for ten years before being allowed to re-enter the United States, which is otherwise the requirement.325

    To obtain 245(i) residency, immigrants cannot have traveled back to their home country and returned again to the United States. But most immigrant workers have done this at one time or another. They risk permanent deportation if their trips are discovered. While labor organizing or labor law complaints are unrelated to the 245(i) application, these workers are generally afraid of doing anything that calls attention to themselves and that might jeopardize their applications. These workers are afraid to exercise their labor rights because immigration laws are unrealistic about the fact that many 245 (i) applicants do travel home, and therefore they are fearful because they already have one count against them.

    One worker interviewed by Human Rights Watch said, “They ask us if we have ever done any anti-government activities in El Salvador or in the United States. In El Salvador union organizing is against the government because the government and the business owners are the same. A lot of workers think it’s the same here. So people don’t want to get involved in the union because it might mess up their 245.”326

    [283] See the full text of relevant international human rights instruments on migrant workers in Appendix D.

    [284] International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, art. 25.3, GA Res 45/158, Dec. 18, 1990, available online at:, accessed on November 17, 2004.

    [285] ILO Conventions are available online at:, accessed on November 17, 2004.

    [286] See Adjustment Of Status To That Of Person Admitted For Permanent Residence, 8 CFR § 245 (1997).  

    [287] See Justin Pritchard, The Associated Press, “Mexican worker deaths rise sharply,” March 14, 2004 (appearing in dozens of newspaper around the country; see, for example, Chattanooga Times Free Press, p. G1).

    [288] For voluminous information on such abuses, see websites of the National Employment Law Project at and the National Immigration Law Center at 

    [289] See Pritchard, “Mexican Worker Deaths Rise Sharply.”

    [290] See Office of the Inspector General, “Evaluation of OSHA’s Handling of Immigrant Fatalities in the Workplace,” Report No. 21-03-023-10-001 (September 30, 2003).

    [291] See David Barboza, “Meatpackers’ Profits Hinge on Pool of Immigrant Labor,” New York Times, December 21, 2001, p. A26 (“Until 15 or 20 years ago, meatpacking plants in the United States were staffed by highly paid, unionized employees who earned about $18 an hour, adjusted for inflation. Today, the processing and packing plants are largely staffed by low-paid, non-union workers from places like Mexico and Guatemala. Many of them start at $6 an hour.

    [292] See U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau, “The Foreign-Born Population in the United States: 2003” (August 2004), available online at:, accessed on November 17, 2004.

    [293] See U.S. Census Bureau, “1990 Census of Population and Housing” and “Census 2000”; both available online at:, accessed on November 17, 2004.

    [294] See Steve Striffler, “Inside a poultry processing plant: an ethnographic portrait; Notes and Documents,” Labor History, vol. 43, no. 3 (August 2002), p. 305.

    [295] Unofficial estimates of the number of undocumented workers range from as low as five to as high as twelve million. The U.S. Census Bureau approximated the figure at eight million for the 2000 census. See Kevin E. Deardorff and Lisa M. Blumerman, “Appendix A: Estimates of the Foreign-Born Population by Migrant Status: 2000” in J. Gregory Robinson, ESCAP II: Demographic Analysis Results, U.S. Census Bureau, October 13, 2001. Using differing assumptions, the Census Bureau fixed the estimated number of unauthorized migrants at 8,490.491 (p. A-10), 7,662,488 (p. A-11) and 8,835,450 (p. A-11). The census report is available online at:, accessed on November 17, 2004.

    [296] B. Lindsay Lowell and Roberto Suro, “How many undocumented: The numbers behind the U.S.-Mexico migrations talks,” (The Pew Hispanic Center, March 31, 2002), available online at:, accessed on November 17, 2004.

    [297] See George J. Borjas, Richard B. Freeman, and Lawrence F. Katz, "How Much Do Immigration and Trade Affect Labor Market Outcomes?" Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, No. 1 (1997); David Card. “Falling Union Membership and Rising Wage Inequality: What’s The Connection?” National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 6520 (April 1998). Persistent violations of immigrant workers’ organizing rights prompted the AFL-CIO in 2000 to reverse a longstanding policy against employment of immigrants and to support immigrant workers’ rights in U.S. workplaces. See Steven Greenhouse, “Labor Urges Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants,” New York Times, February 17, 2000, p. A26; William Claiborne, “AFL-CIO Changes Tune on Immigrant Workers,” Washington Post, June 4, 2000, p. A3.

    [298] Company officials interviewed by Human Rights Watch did not give firm turnover figures. This appears to be a practice. See, for example, Mark Kawar, “Tyson, Freddie Mac help workers to buy homes,” Omaha World-Herald, February 14, 2004, p. 1D (“Employee turnover has been high in the meatpacking industry for decades. Some plants routinely have turnover rates of more than 100 percent every year. Figures on Tyson’s turnover rates were not available.”); “Q&A: Eric Schlosser,” Columbia Journalism Review, July/August 2001, p. 12 (“ConAgra . . . a giant meatpacking company . . . refused to tell me about the employee turnover rate in their slaughterhouses”).

    [299] Human Rights Watch interview, Omaha, Nebraska, July 16, 2003.

    [300] See Striffler, “Inside a poultry processing plant,” p. 305.

    [301] See Lourdes Gouveia and Rogelio Saenz, “Global Forces and Latino Population Growth in the Midwest: A Regional and Subregional Analysis,” 10 Great Plains Research 305 (Fall 2000); see also Jeremy Olson, “Migrant pipeline fills meatpackers’ needs,” Omaha World-Herald, August 4, 2003, p. 1A.

    [302] Human Rights Watch interview, Omaha, Nebraska, July 16, 2003.

    [303] Human Rights Watch interview, Omaha, Nebraska, July 16, 2003.

    [304] The Basic Pilot Program is a program begun in 1996 by the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS, now part of the Department of Homeland Security, DHS) to allow employers to search government databases to check on workers’ employment eligibility. Participation in the program is voluntary, and participating employers are granted a legal presumption that they have not violated immigration law regarding employment of undocumented workers. For more on the Basic Pilot Program, see National Immigration Law Center, “Basic Information Brief: DHS Basic Pilot Program,” available online at:, accessed on November 17, 2004.

    [305]Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Tyson Foods managers, December 17, 2003.

    [306] Human Rights Watch interview, St. Pauls, North Carolina, December 10, 2003.

    [307] Human Rights Watch interview, Springdale, Arkansas, August 13, 2003.

    [308] Human Rights Watch interview, Omaha, Nebraska, July 16, 2003.

    [309] Human Rights Watch interview, Omaha, Nebraska, July 15, 2003.

    [310] Human Rights Watch interview with Kilbride, February 10, 2004.

    [311] On March 1, 2003, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was transferred from the United States Department of Justice to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Under DHS, the INS was then divided into three bureaus: the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection; the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); and the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS). ICE is responsible for the investigative and enforcement functions of the former INS, while CIS is responsible for the benefits granting and petition adjudication functions.

    [312] See Mike Sherry, “INS Says Vanguard Part of Policy Shift,” Omaha World-Herald, July 2, 1999, p. 1.

    [313] See INS Operating Instruction 287.3; see also John Taylor, “Union Says INS Is Terrorizing Meat Workers,” Omaha World-Herald, December 6, 2000, p. 2.

    [314] See Nancy Cleeland, “Unionizing Is Catch-22 for Illegal Immigrants: Undocumented status makes them vulnerable to workplace retaliation—federal agencies seek to sidestep labor conflicts, but activists push for change in laws,” Los Angeles Times, January 16, 2000, p. A1.

    [315] Human Rights Watch interview, Omaha, Nebraska, July 16, 2003.

    [316] Human Rights Watch interview, Omaha, Nebraska, July 15, 2003.

    [317] See Deborah Alexander, “Six Officials of Beef Plant Are Indicted,” Omaha World-Herald, December 15, 2000, p. 21.

    [318] See Cindy Gonzalez, “Judge Rejects Beef-Plant Indictments: INS acted in bad faith in immigrant hiring case, ruling says,” Omaha World–Herald, April 10, 2002, p. 1A; for the full decision in the case, see U.S. v. Nebraska Beef, Ltd., 194 F. Supp. 2d 949 (2002).

    [319] Human Rights Watch interview with Jeff Greene, union representative, Wilson, North Carolina, July 14, 1999.

    [320] Ibid.

    [321] See Bufkin Testimony.

    [322] See Temporary Protected Status For Nationals Of Designated States, 8 C.F.R. § 244.12 (1997).

    [323] See Mary Beth Sheridan, “Salvadorans Granted 18-Month Residency Extension,” The Washington Post, July 11, 2003, p. A4; Ana Mendieta, “Salvadorans' time running out to extend legal status,” Chicago Sun-Times, August 21, 2003, p. 66.

    [324] Human Rights Watch interview with a Nicaraguan worker, Omaha, Nebraska, July 16, 2003.

    [325] For details on 245(i), see Andorra Bruno, “Immigration: Adjustment to Permanent Resident Status Under Section 245(i),” (Congressional Research Service, April 18, 2002), available online at:, accessed on November 17, 2004.

    [326] Human Rights Watch interview, Omaha, Nebraska, July 16, 2003.

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