Thursday, November 6, 2008

Immigration raid stiffles Kosher food market

In May, immigration authorities conducted a raid on a kosher meat processing plant in Iowa, and ended up arresting hundreds of illegal immigrants (or half the plant's workforce). The owners of the plant were charged with hiring illegal immigrant labor and employing under-age workers. In the wake of the raid, the parent company has shut down. Normally this would be neither interesting nor particularly telling – in competitive markets, you can't identify a shortage caused by one firm's bankruptcy, and it could be plausibly argued that the market has picked up the slack and consumers are being catered to just as before. But in this case, with such a niche product (kosher meat), the plant's closure has led to "a significant void in the market that cannot easily be reproduced," according to an authority on the kosher food, and supermarkets and butcher shops are reporting "shortages of kosher meat this week."

Now, let's examine the two laws that were broken that led to this market disruption. The first is immigration law – but clearly the plant couldn't operate without these illegal immigrants and their willingness to work for relatively low wages, so it's difficult to argue that the immigrants were being employed in jobs that Americans would have worked in otherwise. And then second is underage labor laws, but given that these "children" (the article doesn't say, but I'd guess they're probably 17, or maybe 16 at the youngest) came from Guatemala and knowingly came to a country where they'd have to work to survive, it's hard to argue that in the absence of this law, these children would be in school. Certainly they wouldn't otherwise be in American schools, and given the risk and effort they put into coming to America, it's not reasonable to expect that they would otherwise have simply stayed in school at home.

So, it's obvious that the Kosher-eating community, the town, and the immigrants themselves are worse off for this action. But what of the US government? In addition to forgoing taxes that would have otherwise been paid by the plant's owners and the workers themselves (who pay into Social Security but receive nothing in return), it looks like the government had to foot the bill to imprison and expel these hundreds of Guatemalans:

About 300 illegal immigrant workers, most of them from Guatemala, were convicted on federal charges after the raid. Most served five months in prison and were deported.

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