According to a recent article in The Washington Post, a meat-processing plant in Tennessee was raided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as part of President Trump’s draconian immigration policy.
ICE rounded up and arrested nearly a hundred workers. They have been sent to a detention center and face deportation for reportedly being in the U.S. illegally. The plant’s owners face criminal charges for illegally hiring and paying undocumented workers, though this is considered common in the factory farming industry.
Last year The Washington Post stated, “The Trump administration’s aggressive enforcement of immigration laws and promise to build a wall to keep more people from crossing the border illegally threaten the viability of the on-farm workforce.”
Sadly, work at factory farms and slaughterhouses is often the only option for undocumented workers. Even worse, the National Human Trafficking Hotline reports that undocumented workers are often lured to the U.S. by traffickers hired by the meat, dairy, and egg industries.
According to a recent Vice article, “The Department of Labor officially puts the number of undocumented farmworkers at 46 percent, but industry experts and labor advocates estimate that the number is much, much higher—possibly closer to 70 percent.”
Since many workers fear deportation, they often endure low wages and long hours with no overtime pay and have their wages unfairly altered. Many are denied health care, exposed to hazardous chemicals, and required to operate dangerous machinery.
Countless reports have highlighted the perilous and unsanitary working conditions in these facilities and how workers are often mistreated and exploited. In fact, a report from Oxfam found that line workers at Tyson Foods, Perdue Farms, Pilgrim’s Pride, and Sanderson Farms were denied breaks. Workers went so long without breaks that some were forced to wear diapers. What’s more, workers commonly sustain severe injuries and suffer from respiratory illnesses and infections by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
In addition to its physical dangers, work at factory farms and slaughterhouses often leads to psychological trauma. According to PTSD Journal, many factory farm and slaughterhouse workers must emotionally disconnect from their work to cope with the daily abuse and killing of animals. This emotional dissonance often leads to domestic violence, social withdrawal, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, and PTSD.
While nearly all parts of the U.S. food system are propped up by immigrant labor, the intensely physical and gruesome work of animal processing is even more so. Slaughterhouse work is dangerous, loud, and gory—and business owners regularly can’t find enough laborers with working papers to meet their production needs. Some are able to hire immigrant labor through the H2-B temporary worker visa program, but gaining eligibility as an H2-B employer is time-consuming and difficult, so many facilities turn to undocumented immigrants.
Slaughterhouse workers have little power over how animals are treated. Extreme confinement, mutilations without painkillers, and ruthless slaughter are not the fault of low-level workers.
While it’s certainly true that animals pay the ultimate price, farmworkers are oppressed by the same system that values profit over everything else. Many workers have no voice for speaking out against the atrocities they are forced to commit every day.