Immigration Raid at Mississippi Plants Provokes Concerns About Worker Health and Safety

Advocates are worried about how the arrests will affect the plants’ remaining workers and scare undocumented employees from reporting safety violations.

A massive immigration raid at agricultural processing plants across Mississippi on Wednesday has some worker safety advocates worried about the potential consequences for the remaining workers at those plants and undocumented workers across the country. 

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested about 680 people at food processing plants across the state, making it perhaps the largest worksite operation ever carried out by ICE in a single state, Reuters reported

Dawn M. Lurie, an immigration compliance attorney at Seyfarth Shaw LLP in Washington, D.C., told Bloomberg Lawthat the suddenly short-staffed plants will face a slowdown in production that could lead to missing orders and massive food spoilage. That spoilage could lead to major maintenance issues and health problems for the remaining workers, who will have to take on added job duties with the absence of their colleagues, Lurie said. 

“I’m sure this is all being looked at now,” she said. 

OSHA has cited the poultry processing industry, which had several plants raided by ICE, 737 times in five years, according to Bloomberg. Some lawyers and advocates worry that the large number of immigration arrests at processing plants makes undocumented workers less likely to report safety concerns to federal agencies. 

“These raids will give the green light to companies with already egregious safety records to further cut corners and endanger workers because workers will be too frightened to speak up,” Debbie Berkowitz, the worker health and safety program director at the National Employment Law Project, told Bloomberg. 

Undocumented workers have the right to file health and safety complaints with OSHA and refuse unsafe work, according to Legal Aid at Work, an organization that provides legal help to low-income people. But as fewer people speak up about potential violations, it will “make an unsafe industry even more unsafe,” Berkowitz said. 

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union said it is also concerned about how the immigration arrests will affect the reporting of injustice at work.   

“Workers across this country are too scared to stand up for their rights and to report wage theft, dangerous work conditions, and other workplace issues,” UCFW spokesperson Abraham White said in a statement.“We must act now to end this dangerous climate of fear.”

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