Businesses Feel Effects of Raids on Illegal Labor In recent months, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have raided factories, farms and restaurants across the country — arresting laborers allegedly working in the U.S. illegally. Guests discuss how the crackdown has affected businesses that rely on an immigrant work force.
NPR logo

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/15292417/15292414" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Businesses Feel Effects of Raids on Illegal Labor

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/15292417/15292414" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

In recent months, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has crack downed on factories, farms and restaurants across the United States. In raid after raid, officers have found and arrested alleged undocumented laborers who, they say, were working in the United States illegally.

After the ICE raids, these communities and the businesses they worked in have changed. Immigrant workers often pack up and leave. Some returned to their home country. Others relocate to places they hope may be friendlier. Still, others go into hiding. And employers have to find new workers, which often isn't easy. Part of the idea is to prompt calls for immigration reforms and that, at least, appears to be working.

If there have been immigration raids in your community, call and tell us what's happened afterwards. What's been the effect on your workplace and on your town? Our number is 800-989-8255. E-mail as talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our blog, that's at npr.org/blogofthenation.

And we're joined now by Steven Greenhouse, the labor and workplace correspondent for The New York Times. In the story last week, he wrote about how immigration raids have changed the small town of Tar Heel, North Carolina where Smithfield Foods is based.

Steven Greenhouse, nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. STEVEN GREENHOUSE (Labor and Workplace Correspondent, The New York Times): Nice to be here, Neal.

CONAN: Tell us a little about Tar Heel, North Carolina and about what happened there?

Mr. GREENHOUSE: Tar Heel is a very small town in southern southeast South Carolina. It has the world's largest hog-slaughtering plant. It kills 33 - 32,000 hogs a day, and it employs more than 5,000 people. Many of them Hispanic, many of them African-American, some of them white, some Lumbee Indians.

Beginning last November, a crackdown began at the plant. First, the plant sent out no-match letters to 640 workers saying, your Social Security numbers or documents don't seem valid. Then last January, 21 people were arrested at the plant. They were told to go to human resources and boom, they were arrested. And over the past year or so, more than a thousand Hispanic workers, many of them immigrants, many of them illegal immigrants, left the plant. So the plant went from, like, being 60 percent Hispanic to about 27 percent Hispanic today. And of course, the plant has had to hire many hundreds of people to take those spots.

CONAN: Interesting. And reading your article, we have the impression sometimes, illegal aliens - illegal workers are unskilled labor. In a lot of cases, they were among the most skilled workers at the plant.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: Yes. As I said, it's a huge plant and some of the jobs are very basic, you know, just packing ribs into a box. And some of them are very skilled - knowing how to, you know, carve the loin or, God forbid, you know, slip the throats of the hogs. Some of them require a lot of efficiency, a lot of hard work, and take months and even years to really get very good at.

CONAN: And interestingly, the company has tried to replace these workers, but the turnover - normally, these are not pleasant jobs pretty well playing for the area, but not pleasant jobs, the turnover was at about 25 to 30 percent per month before and now, it's up to 60 percent?

Steve Greenhouse? We've apparently lost contact with our bureau in New York. We're talking with Steve Greenhouse of the New York Times, the labor and workplace correspondent for that newspaper who wrote an article in last week's paper called, "Crackdown Upends Slaughterhouse's Work Force." He describes the town of Tar Heel, North Carolina.

Last November, he wrote, immigration officials began a crackdown at Smithfield Foods, a giant slaughterhouse here. Eventually arresting 21 illegal immigrants at the plant and rousting others from their trailers in the middle of the night. Since then, more than eleven hundred Hispanic workers have left the 5,200-employee hog butchering plant - the world's largest - leaving it struggling to find trained and keep replacements.

We'll re-establish contact with our bureau in New York. But in the meantime, let's talk now with Jack Vessey. Jack Vessey is vice president and marketing director of the - his company - his family company that grows lettuce, spinach and broccoli in California's Imperial Valley. He's with us today from his office at Holtville, California. Thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. JACK VESSEY (Vice President and Marketing Director, Vessey & Company): Good morning, sir. Thank you.

CONAN: And as I understand it, there has not been an immigration raid on your farm or near your farm, yet you're feeling the effects of it any way?

Mr. VESSEY: Yeah. We are. I mean, what we've seen is a lot of laborers trying, I guess you could say, staying away from the area, to get as far north as possible, if you will. Our office is 10 miles north of the border, as well as most of our ranches are right along the Mexican-California border. And we find that many of these laborers they're going to be coming from Central Mexico to try to get north or to other locations because of the enforcement we do have here on the border right now.

CONAN: So would you say that the majority of your workers, the people you need to pick your crops, are illegals?

Mr. VESSEY: You know, I don't think they're illegal. I mean, maybe falsely documents due to, you know, the laws. We do checks documents and have to have the I-9 filled out. And of course, now we have the no-match rule coming into effect as well.

CONAN: But if they're legal, then you don't have anything to worry about.

Mr. VESSEY: No, sir. We don't. We don't have anything to worry about if they're legal. But with the crackdown here on the border, the National Guard and the time getting across the border, it's becoming very difficult for these people to get across on a daily basis. We're losing a lot of our workforce.

CONAN: And, as you know, a lot of people - critics would say, you know, if you just paid people a little bit better, you could get Americans to do this work for you.

Mr. VESSEY: Well, we've tried. We - our local EDD, our (unintelligible) unemployment office, we've gone in and asked for 300 people a few times and have one person show up. In regards to pay, we are in California. Our minimum wage is higher than most states. And a lot of these people do work on piece-rate basis and are making $10 plus an hour more than our local Wal-Mart, if you will.

CONAN: So you still can't get enough people?

Mr. VESSEY: No. And there's been people that come here down from other areas to hire labor and promise to pay more and then different incentives, and it hasn't created more people.

CONAN: It hasn't created at all.

Mr. VESSEY: No.

CONAN: It hasn't - couldn't enlarge the workforce, if ever?

Mr. VESSEY: No, sir.

CONAN: Uh-huh. So what's going to happen and what do you fear will happen if there are even more hurdles put in your way?

Mr. VESSEY: We're not going to get our crops harvested. We plant a crop to harvest it, to send it to the market, if you will. And, you know, it's very concerning to us that we're planting these seeds and, you know, we're not 100 percent sure that they will be harvested.

CONAN: And obviously, this is - when you need them, you need them.

Mr. VESSEY: Yeah. Well, it's a timing matter. When a head of lettuce is ready to be harvested, it's ready that day.

CONAN: Uh-huh. And what's the normal procedure? Where do you go to find the men, and I guess the women, to pick these crops?

Mr. VESSEY: Yeah. We're here - and they get in the Imperial Valley on the border. There's - much of them come across from Mexicali, Mexico, which is the capital of Baja, California. There's a border town called Calexico, California, where many of the laborers will cross in the morning and there are different pick-up locations for our labor buses.

CONAN: And normally, about, you know, when you need them, how many people do you employ?

Mr. VESSEY: Indirectly, we use labor contractors, well, the companies that we partnered with, hire for their own harvest. But indirectly, I would say, on a daily basis, anywhere - depending on supply and the, you know, the demand for the crop - 500 to 1,000 people.

CONAN: And how many - how much do you pay them? And how many hours do they work per day?

Mr. VESSEY: Well, of course, again, we're in California, so the minimum, I believe, right now, is seven something going another 50 cents in January. So they'll be making close to $8. But a lot of this, again, is piecework - meaning so many carts per hour, they're paid per carton, and there's a lot of crews that are making $10 plus an hour easily on a daily basis.

CONAN: So is this a threat to your family business?

Mr. VESSEY: Yeah. No, it's a big threat. And, again, now what we're doing as a lot of companies - a lot of my competitors were looking at mechanization and growing certain crops that lend themselves to mechanize harvest.

CONAN: Jack Vessey, thanks very much and good luck to you.

Mr. VESSEY: Thank you, sir.

CONAN: Jack Vessey, vice president of Vessey & Company, a lettuce grower in California's Imperial Valley, with us by phone today from his office in Holtville, California.

Well, if there have been immigration raids in or around communities where you live, what's been the effect on the business and on the town? Have some other ancillary businesses grown, improved, have they gone out of business? Give us a call, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org.

I think Steve Greenhouse is with us back from our bureau in New York. Steve, are you there?

Mr. GREENHOUSE: I hope so.

CONAN: Okay. I apologize for that technical problem earlier.

One of the things you were talking about was the effect on these - of these immigration raids. The New York Times had reported on Tar Heel, North Carolina several years ago as a part of the series on tensions between African-American and Hispanic workers in the United States.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: Yes. One of our reporters actually worked at the plant for several weeks and wrote about the often uneasy racial relations between the Hispanic workers and the other workers, especially the African-American workers. When the plant first opened in 1992, most of its workers were black, and then starting in the mid-1990s, more and more Hispanic workers especially immigrant workers came in. And by 2000 or so, the plant was more or less majority Hispanic.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And a lot of African-Americans complained these immigrant workers were taking away jobs from African-Americans.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: Yes. But some people also said that, you know, a lot of African-American workers, you know, and white workers and the Lumbee Indians as well, got tired of the job. It's a very hard job, very grueling, pretty fast-line speed. The pay is good for the area. Now, it's about, you know, $11 or $12 an hour. But some people, I think - many people, I think, would hesitate to do such a grueling, smelly job for $11 or $12 an hour.

CONAN: For example, you cite the case of one woman who has to commute a long bus trip every day from South Carolina to do this job, but she's making more than twice what she used to make changing beds at a Days Inn.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: Right. I took a bus trip with 12 workers in South Carolina who travel more than an hour each way to the plant. And they left jobs at Perdue poultry that paid $7 to $7.15 an hour. This other woman was making beds at a Days Inn for $5.25 an hour. And now they're making $10, $11, $12 an hour at Smithfield, and it's much better pay. But some of them say, you know, the work is too hard, too smelly, too long a trip. They have to pay $40 a week for the commute. And they - some of them are thinking, well, maybe this isn't worth it, which points to the problem that Smithfield and other companies that have been raided face, it's very hard to get enough workers especially when the nation's unemployment rate is below 5 percent.

CONAN: And indeed, the same question we put to Jack Vessey just a minute ago, if they raised wages, people would maybe hold their nose and go ahead and do those jobs.

GREENHOUSE: And Jack had a good answer. You know, if you - he says he's paying 8 to $10 an hour. If you pay $11 to $12 an hour, how many native-born Americans are going to want to work out in the hot sun, you know, for $11 to $12 an hour? Maybe it would take $20, $25, $30 an hour, which, you know, of course, Mr. Vessey would say is astronomical.

But if the nation really wants to run its farms and meat-packing plants without undocumented workers, then it might require a big change in the scenario for them to pay a lot more, which, of course, would mean the consumers might end up having to pay a lot more for their meats, for their pork, for their produce.

CONAN: This is also, as we'll hear when we return, partly a union issue, as well. We'll discuss that when we come back. Stay with us. Steve Greenhouse of the New York Times is with us.

We're talking about how the crackdown in illegal immigration changes where you live, not just Tar Heel, North Carolina. Have some businesses expanded, others gone out of work? What's happened after the raids? Give us a call, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

We're discussing how immigration raids may have changed your town, your city or your county.

In a moment, we'll talk with the mayor of the town where a raid arrested several hundred workers at a meat-processing plant.

Our guest is Steven Greenhouse, labor and workplace correspondent for the New York Times.

And of course, we want to hear from you. What's changed where you work or where you live after an immigration raid? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. E-mail, talk@npr.org. And you can read what other listeners have to say on our blog, npr.org/blogofthenation.

And let's see if we can get a caller on the line. And this is Ron(ph). Ron's with us from Miami Beach.

RON (Caller): Hi. How are you?

CONAN: Very well. Thank you.

RON: I'll tell you not only the farmers are having difficult time but I own a restaurant in Miami Beach. And I have felt - because of the raids, I have lost bus boys, dishwashers, maintenance personnel. All of them have decided to stay away. And unfortunately, even though I pay minimum wage and maybe a dollar more than minimum wage, I still can't find Americans who'll do this type of job. And if I have to, it's - I will have to pass the cost up to my clients, to my customers. And I think that's a problem that people aren't realizing. It's not only the farmers which are being - is being affected by these raids, but also smaller business. We depend on cheap labors, if you may, or economical labor in order for us to get our products and our services onto the community.

CONAN: I wonder, Ron, has there been a raid on your place or is this just a result of fear of raids?

RON: Actually, in our case, they have been more mostly fear. There have not been a raid in our place, but all along the city, there is fear - about a month ago, there was a fear that there was an immigration raid or were going to be immigration raids, and suddenly, all of us began to realize that personnel wasn't showing up.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

RON: And so, literally, I had to wash dishes and clean toilets because we just didn't have anyone to do it. And it's sad that people are scared to death, because there isn't. And as soon as they hear raid or they hear the word immigration or ICE this - automatically, it's a consequence. It's like a train without breaks, you know, with everybody just starts panicking. Business people don't show up to work. Business gets hurt.

And I think, as a country, we really need to sit down and analyze what we have to do in order to correct this mess. And I don't blame the undocumented worker. I'll blame our administration. Since 1986, we just didn't do the right things in order to have a well-organized immigration policy. And I think we're all going to be affected. And if we don't do something about it quickly, I think we all, as Americans, are going to have learn to pay more for the services that we are accustomly getting right now.

CONAN: Ron, thanks very much. Good luck to you.

RON: Thank you.

CONAN: And, Steve Greenhouse, that point Ron was making that this - this is the time now to sit down and figure out what we're going to do. Well, at least in part, that's what these raids are intended to do.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: It's not exactly clear if that that's what they intended to do. Some people say that the Bush administration, you know, unhappy that its immigration reform package was defeated is now trying to make businesses very unhappy, make immigrant communities very unhappy by launching these raids so that, you know, the nation's businesses, like the gentleman in Miami, and the nation's Hispanics and other immigrant groups will push hard in Congress to try to resurrect the immigration bill that was defeated.

CONAN: There is also, you know, theories about, you know, changing people's ideas about the way immigration affects the country. If suddenly prices go up and the economy is hurt, maybe people will change their minds.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: Yes, I mean, I find it very interesting listening to the restaurant owner in Miami. Clearly, he makes the point that, you know, thanks to immigration, including illegal immigration, the American economy has been able to grow faster. And his restaurant has been able to expand, thanks to cheap labor, often illegal immigrant laborers. Same probably with Jack Vessey in California, his farm is probably able to expand faster than it might have.

So, clearly we hear a lot of people complaining about the bad things that illegal immigration does, but a lot of business owners and a lot of economists say well, wait a second, illegal immigration has in many ways helped the American economy.

CONAN: Let's talk now with Jessica(ph). Jessica is on the line with us from Kannapolis in North Carolina.

JESSICA (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: Hi. Jessica, go ahead please.

JESSICA: Yes, well, Kannapolis is right outside of Charlotte here. And I am an American citizen but I am Hispanic, and my husband is born (audio gap) is a permanent resident. And being - living outside of Charlotte, we read the Spanish-speaking newspaper, and we see that they're actually having a lot of raids in apartment buildings and not even businesses anymore. We have a lot of people - being an American citizen, I have them come up and ask me what am I supposed to do? What can I do over here?

And I also see a lot of - you know, I live in a small town, a lot of resentment from non-Hispanic people towards to me and my children. What's really upsetting to me is that, you know, we're trying to live our lives and be happy. And I'm sorry for, you know, for my sons. But, you know…

CONAN: It's okay.

JESSICA: …being - they feel like we're less because of the color of our skin. And it's just very frustrating. You know, because, you know, they're scared about bad elements, but bad elements are everywhere. And there is - my husband did come in illegally and he did become legal. And he's a hardworking man. He just got over disability. For a couple of (unintelligible) working every single day, 12 hours a day, and they would not pay, workers come first and we have to go on disability. And people see that. People don't see that there are people -that a majority of them are very hardworking and are looking for better lives and better for their families. They just see the way it is for them.

And it just hurts me that, you know, that respect, my children get that looks from neighbors now. Kids who used to be their friends - because of the raids, their parents don't let them be their friends anymore. And now, that's mean more than anything because, you know, that's just ignorance, you know? And I don't think it's fair or it's right, you know? I understand that, you know, people have lost their jobs, but I think Kannapolis is a great example where a factory, you know, got shut down and was sent overseas. And now, they're having a new biotechnology tech(ph) campus made here. And a huge amount of growth is being made here because of it, you know, and I just think that people need to realize, you know…

CONAN: Yeah.

JESSICA: …that there are bad eggs. Yes, there are in, like, every group, but the majority of them are very hardworking people who do love this country and, you know, left their homes, their family and everything to come here to better their lives, you know, and just do better for them.

CONAN: Jessica…

JESSICA: I'm sorry.

CONAN: Oh, that's okay, Jessica. Thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it, and I know it's not easy to talk about.

JESSICA: All right.

CONAN: Okay.

JESSICA: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks so much.

And Steve Greenhouse, well, part of your story was also - she was talking about the human price of some these raids.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: Yeah. The - I hear(ph) a lot of people who - whose family members who were arrested and faced deportation. Many of the workers have worked at this missile plants seven, eight, nine, 10 years, and, you know, they clearly are dedicated good workers, or else they probably would not have been at the plant anymore. And they're arrested and, you know, some are leaving wives with three, four little kids.

I interviewed this woman Sandy Avilla(ph) whose mother had worked to the plant for eight, nine, 10 years. She was arrested when immigration agents came banging at the trailer four in the morning in August. And now, Sandy Avilla says, you know, all we want to do is work hard, take care of families, raise our families. And, you know, she feels that they're being victimized. Now, of course, you know, many Americans say, well, we can't feel much sympathy for them. They're here illegally. Why should we feel sympathy for them? They're taking away jobs from us.

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: And these are Mexican workers just trying to make it.

CONAN: Joining us now is now Tom Selders, the mayor of Greeley, Colorado where U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers raided a Swift & Company meatpacking factory last December.

And, Mayor, nice of you to join us today.

Mayor TOM SELDERS (Greely, Colorado): Yes, I appreciate the opportunity to be on and chat with you a bit.

CONAN: Okay. How many of people are arrested back in that raid?

Mayor SELDERS: You know, it's been a while, so the numbers aren't exactly with me, but I think it was around 300, maybe, a little less than 300.

CONAN: And what's happened to the business and to the community afterwards?

Mayor SELDERS: Well, the business affected was Swift & Company, and they're a huge company. And they recently sold to another, actually a Brazilian company who's pumping some money in to it and making it grow. In fact, they've added a second ship. So as a big company, they've recovered okay. Although, they said they lost about $30 million because of the disruption of the raids in December.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mayor SELDERS: So, I think as a company they're okay. And they're hiring additional people. They are having to go outside of the immediate area to find those people, however. But they offer some pretty good jobs, so, I think, they're on their way to getting back to be fully staffed again. But, you know, the raids in December did create a lot of turmoil. Right after that raid, we had huge snow storm here. The worst we've had in years and that just, you know, compounded the problems and made things worse.

CONAN: In what way? I mean, what's been - when you say it's had a bad effect on community, for instance?

Mayor SELDERS: Well, you know, we ended up with families that were disrupted. I heard one of the callers in just a little bit ago talked about that effect in her community.

CONAN: Yeah, Jessica. Yeah.

Mayor SELDERS: And, you know, what happened here where we had maybe a mother and children that were left behind, the dad was deported. And so there was no way for them to - you know, some of these workers were hold off without even the opportunity to leave a paycheck with their - with the rest of their family. So it disrupted them. I know our United Way here had an effort, and they had a couple of hundred thousand dollars of money that was donated to them and they went through that pretty fast, giving out some grants to some folks that needed it for food or heat in their homes.

So we had that kind of disruption. And to this day, I know there's - you know, there are still some families that are separated and kids that have been impacted, although over the months I think probably most of them have figured out something to do or have moved away or gone back to their native country. But the facts are still there and it's, you know, it just created a big division in our community that unfortunately is still there.

CONAN: Still there. You know, of course, some people would say that, you know, if - this big company Swift & Company suffered $30 million in losses. Well, maybe that was an indirect penalty for looking the other way, not paying too close attention when they hired their people.

Mayor SELDERS: Well, you could say that. However, Swift & Company's position -and I've seen a lot of things written about this, they were cooperating to their fullest with the federal government. Swift is one of the original participators in the pilot program, the basic pilot program. And they had actually been in the position of asking a lot of questions and got slapped on the hand from the feds for asking too many questions.

CONAN: Hmm.

Mayor SELDERS: And they had gone to the federal government and said, you know, we think we've got workers here who are using false identities. And we'd like to try to do something about it. And the government just basically ignored them and they said, no, you can only ask the questions that are allowed and you have to rely on what the basic pilot program says. Well, it had a lot of discrepancies as we've come to find out.

CONAN: Yeah.

Mayor SELDERS: So I think that Swift was used as a - you know, they were used by the government. And there was a big press conference about all the great things that these raids had done. And I think that they…

CONAN: Well, it sounds like from your point of view, you wished it never happened.

Mayor SELDERS: Well, I wished this never happened. And you know, I'm for enforcing the laws, and we have certainly criminals in our community that some of whom - maybe 10 percent of all the crimes are committed by illegal people and, you know, they should be deported. We have no room in our society for drug trafficking or any kind of violent crimes or any kind of crimes. And so we need to deal with them.

But what my concern is that we're - we don't - the government doesn't have the resources to deal with everything so they should concentrate on the criminals and not go after those hard workers who were granted, maybe they don't have the proper paperwork or they are on a visa and that visa expired. Sure, there are some of that. But let's take care of the bad guys first, and then worry about the others. And so my concern is that, you know, to make a big example, to make a splash, we - the government did this raid on these people that were employed and were working and contributing to our economy and providing living for themselves.

CONAN: Mayor…

Mayor SELDERS: They did that at the expense of what they really ought to be doing.

CONAN: Mayor, thanks very much for your time today. I appreciate it.

Mayor SELDERS: You bet. Good to talk to you.

CONAN: Tom Selders, mayor of Greeley, Colorado, where there was an immigration raid on Swift & Company last December, with us by phone from Greeley, Colorado.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And Steve Greenhouse, it's interesting. The meatpacking industry is subject to a lot of these raids because there are believed to be a lot of illegal immigrants working in the industry. Yet what the mayor was saying if there had been a consistent pattern of enforcement over the years, some of these problems may not be emerging now.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: You know, that's a legitimate point. You know, when the big new immigration law was passed in 1986, companies were forbidden from hiring illegal immigrants. But if they made a good faith effort to make sure that the workers had proper documents, then they could hire whoever came in.

But being, you know, good faith effort, you know, a lot of them just kind of look for half a second and didn't mind that the documents are fake, so you've seen millions and millions of undocumented workers hired over the years.

And now, we have all these Americans clamoring for a crackdown. Let's get rid of all these illegal immigrants and the government is sort of listening and, you know, from the remarks we've heard from the mayor, from the restaurant owner, from the farm in California, we're seeing that, you know, the huge disruption that this causes.

And as the caller from North Carolina said, you know, Kannapolis, she said, you know, unfortunately, a lot of Hispanic citizens who are born here are being treated as if they are, you know, good-for-nothing illegal immigrants and that they're feeling a lot of the brunt of it as well.

CONAN: Let's see we get another caller in. This is John(ph). John, with us from Vallejo in California.

JOHN (Caller): Yes. Good afternoon.

CONAN: Afternoon.

JOHN: I certainly want to take issue with the mayor of Greeley who was on the radio just a moment ago. In that going after the criminals first - and this isn't really the reason I called but it's a good segue, if you're going after the criminals first violates the adage that the burdened hand is worth two in the bush. I mean if you got somebody for whatever reason and they're here illegally, they should be put in a detention facility and taken out of the country as quickly as possible.

I find it unconscionable - and for 30 years as I'm now getting into my later time in life, wondered where was our country, the United States, at greatest risk, even during the Cold War period. And I could not come down with anything other than the fact that we would be taken over internally, predominantly by people who are going to come here unannounced and unwelcome and then get on to the gravy train, which I see everyday at work.

I'm in a health care profession. It's a retail side of it. And every day, a third of the customers that I have to deal with, in a community like Napa, for example, they come trying to get their prescriptions filled, they get the prescription filled with a year's worth of refills every month from one of the local clinics. And then after that, they come to me and look at me like I'm from Mars because I don't speak Spanish.

We don't have anybody in the staff that speaks Spanish. And because of the labor laws in place, you can't take people out of a specific position and put someone else in there because they speak a foreign language.

But it takes more time to process these people. You can't, you know, consult with them in any way to get them to take their medications correctly. And I'll be damned if I'm going - in my own country, have to speak a foreign language to deal with customers. They're coming in and they don't speak English. I mean, its…

CONAN: John, thanks very much. I'm afraid we're up against the clock. We appreciate your phone call.

JOHN: That's fine.

CONAN: We're going to continue this conversation. What's happened in your town or your community after immigration raids? We'll also be speaking with Eboo Patel about a post 9/11 sitcom that's surprisingly funny.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Coming up in just a moment, the TALK OF THE NATION Opinion Page.

But let's continue taking your calls on how immigration raids are changing your town, your business, your community. 800-989-8255. Our guest is Steven Greenhouse, labor and workplace correspondent for the New York Times. And our e-mail, if you'd like to join us that way, is talk@npr.org. And you can read what other listeners have to say at our blog. That's at npr.org/blogofthenation.

And Steve Greenhouse, we were talking about the effect on workers a lot. How are companies responding to these, well, to these changes?

Mr. GREENHOUSE: Some companies are shell shocked. And there are some - you know, a company, a poultry company in Georgia lost two-thirds of its workforce because of immigration raids back last December. And it started hiring homeless people. It started hiring people fresh out of prison. It - and this is in Georgia. And it started recruiting Hmong refugees from Minneapolis. And it increased its wages from $7-an hour to $9-an hour.

Smithfield, you know, which lost many Hispanic immigrant workers, has been running big television ads throughout North Carolina, trying to recruit workers as well. Swift is giving $1,500 bonus to new workers and to current workers who help recruit new workers.

CONAN: So, in response, I mean, I guess some people say, you know, in effect, they are trying to pay more, or at least advertise themselves as a good, safe place to work.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: Yes, Neal. Some are paying more and some are in ways trying to avoid paying more by doing recruiting, they're casting in it wider to try to find workers.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller. And this is Jose(ph). Jose is with us from Chicago.

JOSE (Caller): Yeah. My name is Jose. And I want to give a couple of examples to frame my argument. First of all, in the Chicago suburbs, we had two recent cases where there - no-match letters were used to layoff dozens of workers. One in a place called Cygnus in South Chicago and one at a plant called - owned Ballco in Aurora. And in both cases, documented workers, people who are citizens here, decided to walk out in protest.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

JOSE: And joined the undocumented workers who were fired on picket lines outside. And I think that this is an indicative of what workers on the ground understand. This is not an issue - and this is my main argument. This is not an issue and it shouldn't be framed as an issue about business and labor.

You know, we shouldn't - and this goes for the offenders and the detractors as well and stuff. We shouldn't talk about this as a, you know, jobs that local people won't take because that's a way to divide workers. That's what they said about Italians, Irish, Polish. That's what they said about a countless European immigrants a hundreds years ago, 50 years ago, 20 years ago, even today. They're using the same arguments to divide workers today.

And at the same time, it is - and Jessica was the best example of this. This is an issue about human rights. This is not an issue about business and how it affects business because on that we will win, you know, immigration activists will win that argument time and time again. You look at any town that carried out lots of deportations or made it harder for immigrants to live there and those towns are falling to pieces. The businesses are closing. But in the end of the day, this is actually an issue about humans - human rights, workers rights and how people are taking it. And…

CONAN: Just to clarify…

JOSE: (Unintelligible)…

CONAN: Just to clarify - a moment - just - Jose, just let me clarify for just a moment. The no-match letters sent out by the government say the social security numbers you're sending don't appear to match to the identities of the workers that were given, i.e., we suspect that they are here illegally.

And Steve Greenhouse, in Tar Heel, North Carolina, the issue there was framed in terms of - well, a union issue as well.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: Yes. Ever since the plant opened in 1992, the union, the United Food and Commercial Workers has tried to unionize the plant. And these raids have come. These no-match letters have come in the past year. And some people say, oh, the federal government is in bed with the company. They're trying to put, you know, push out the union. The federal government denies that. The company denies that.

But in ways, you know, the raids and no-match letters are hurting the union because it has increased the fear among the Hispanic workers. They're more scared to stand up. And a lot of the union supporters have - like the other Hispanic workers who've gone so scared that they've left.

CONAN: And what about Jose's other point that some ancillary businesses -restaurants, beauty parlors, that kind of thing, they've been adversely affected by this, too.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: Jose is absolutely right. In ways, the raids have so-called call the question, you know. These are among the - you know, least desirable jobs in the country - working in meatpacking plants, doing harvesting, you know, making hotel beds. It's not surprising that a lot of native-born Americans do not want those jobs. Americans do not raise their kids to make hotel beds or work in meatpacking plants generally. And, you know, to fill these least desirable jobs, the companies often bring in or happy to hire undocumented workers.

An interesting thing is in the 1980s when meatpacking plants were largely unionized, they paid 12, 14, 15 an hour. That's what they pay now. They've become largely deunionized. It would be interesting if the plants were paying $25 an hour. I think a lot of Americans would be happy to work there and may be all these plants would not have to hire, would not have turned to undocumented workers over the past decade or two.

CONAN: Jose, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

And we'd like to thank Steve Greenhouse for his time. He's the workplace and labor correspondent for the New York Times, with us today from our bureau in New York.

Nice to have you on the program again, Steve.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: My pleasure, Neal. Thank you.

CONAN: Coming up, we'll be talking on the Opinion Page.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.