The Refugees Abused in the Name of Chicken and Profit

Photo by the US Department of Agriculture via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

ProPublica’s Michael Grabell published a thoroughly investigated and thoroughly alarming exposé of the dangerous, exploitative labor practices at Case Farms, a grower whose billion pounds of chicken a year supplies chains like KFC and Taco Bell. As if the dangerous working conditions and twisted uses of immigration law weren’t bad enough, they specifically target refugees to make up their abused labor force.

Beecher arrived at the church in time for Sunday Mass, and set himself up in its office. He had no trouble recruiting parishioners to return with him to the Case Farms plant in Morganton, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Those first Guatemalans worked so hard, Beecher told the labor historian Leon Fink in his book, “The Maya of Morganton,” that supervisors kept asking for more, prompting a return trip. Soon vans were running regularly between Indiantown and Morganton, bringing in new recruits. “I didn’t want [Mexicans],” Beecher, who died in 2014, told Fink. “Mexicans will go back home at Christmastime. You’re going to lose them for six weeks. And in the poultry business you can’t afford that. You just can’t do it. But Guatemalans can’t go back home. They’re here as political refugees. If they go back home, they get shot.” Shelton approved hiring the immigrants, Beecher said, and when the plant was fully staffed and production had doubled “he was tickled to death.”

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