After Immigration Raid, Locals Line Up For Jobs

Howard Industries

Job applicants gather at the Howard Industries plant in Laurel, Miss., two days after an immigration raid. Rogelio V. Solis/AP Photo/ hide caption

itoggle caption Rogelio V. Solis/AP Photo/

Job seekers have been lining up at the Howard Industries electronics plant in Laurel, Miss., where federal agents on Monday arrested 595 suspected illegal immigrants. The workers came from several Central and South American nations — the list includes Brazil, El Salvador, Mexico and Peru — as well as Germany.

The local paper, the Laurel Leader-Call, has pulled several threads from the developing story.

Employees inside the plant say Immigration and Customs Enforcement was tipped off after friction between the union and immigrant workers. Union workers told the paper that immigrants sometimes got as much as 40 hours a week in overtime. Immigrants, meanwhile, reported the union pressured them into joining by saying that a raid was coming and that union members wouldn't be taken.

Howard posted a sign last week, before the raid, saying it would be hiring. As news of the raid spread, local people began applying. With unemployment in the county at 6.5 percent — lower than the statewide rate of 8.5 percent — one economist told the Leader-Call the region has something of a labor shortage.

"That leaves businesses with a serious problem," said William Gunther, a professor at the nearby University of Southern Mississippi. "That doesn't justify, but it certainly explains why they might be hiring individuals who show up and say, 'I'll work for you.' "

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