Tyson Indictments Expose Flaws in US Immigration System
No doubt many were shocked when a company as massive as Tyson Foods was indicted for a crime as serious as alien smuggling. As an immigration lawyer based in the same part of the country as Tyson, I was mainly surprised that it took this long for a major agribusiness in this area to be targeted for prosecution for immigration violations. While most companies are probably not going so far as to smuggle aliens into the country, for many firms labor shortages remain so severe that they are willing to go to extremes to find enough workers to keep the lights on. That includes hiring illegal workers.
Whether or not the accusation proves true, Tyson, like thousands of other companies, has been in a no-win situation. Even with layoffs in the hundreds of thousands, there are still some jobs that most Americans just will not do. A flight attendant or a computer programmer that is laid off is simply not going to relocate to rural Arkansas to take an unpleasant job in a chicken processing plant. Despite problems in the US economy, the severe labor shortages experienced in the nation's agricultural sector are not appreciably better now than they were when the US economy was peaking.
So companies like Tyson are left with several bad choices. The company could raise salaries so dramatically that US workers can fill all available positions. But then its costs would rise so dramatically that it might no longer operate profitably in the US. They could simply leave positions empty. But then who would produce the food to feed this nation? And idle plants still cost money. Just ask owners of textile plants in the Southeast who have relocated their operations to Latin America because they could not find enough affordable workers in the US to profitably operate. Or it could hire illegal workers, the choice Tyson is accused of making.
Some ask why a company like Tyson simply does not go the legal route and apply for visas for foreign workers. The truth is that there are no sufficient legal options for hiring these workers, even when the Department of Labor is willing to stipulate a massive worker shortage in an industry. The only temporary visa available for unskilled workers is called an H-2B visa and it requires an employer to show that the need for a worker is temporary. Unfortunately, Tyson's needs are not temporary. They have long-term positions that remain unfilled. Aside from that, employers in this and many similar fields have virtually no options.
This case illustrates quite well why the guest worker program supported by President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox is still needed. The proposed program would create a legal way to bring foreign workers to fill jobs Americans will not take. After September 11th, the momentum for passing a guest worker bill seems to have disappeared. Indeed, President Bush has said that even though he still supports the notion, he's not prepared to bring it up now.
Instead, Congress is focused, and rightly so, on the security gaps in the US immigration system. But the persistent shortage of unskilled workers in many sectors of the US economy remain. Congress needs to learn to chew gum and walk at the same time on immigration issues. It IS possible to have a secure immigration system and have a guest worker program at the same time. Some in the anti-immigrant caucus in Congress have tried to say that guest worker legislation and legislation aimed at legalizing the millions of illegal aliens - mostly Mexican - are somehow tied to the nation's security. This argument is ridiculous. There is no evidence that Mexicans have had any ties to terrorism. In fact, none of the September 11th terrorists used work visas to get into the US. And by making it possible for illegal workers to enter the US on legitimate work visas instead of crossing in remote areas in the middle of the night, it will be easier to monitor who is entering and leaving the country.
Tyson's reputation will no doubt be damaged by the indictments. And, if the charges are true, Tyson certainly crossed the line by actually smuggling immigrants into the country. But the Congress shares the blame for failing to create a system that allows employers facing worker shortages to recruit foreign workers. This is a problem that has only grown more severe as the country has prospered over the last two decades. One day, we may find ourselves in the regrettable situation of having to import most of our food, simply because employers could not find enough affordable workers. Congress can help prevent this outcome by taking the steps today to give employers the flexibility to hire foreign workers. The time for a real guest worker program is now.
About The Author
Gregory Siskind has experience handling all aspects of immigration and nationality law and has represented numerous clients throughout the world. Mr. Siskind provides consultations to corporations and individuals on immigration law issues and handles cases before the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of State, the Department of Labor and other government agencies. Gregory Siskind is also committed to community service. He regularly provides free legal services to indigent immigration clients and speaks at community forums to offer information on immigration issues.
After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, Gregory Siskind went on to receive his law degree from the University of Chicago. For the past several years, he has been an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and he currently serves as a member of the organization's Technology Committee. He is the current committee chair for the Nashville Bar Association's International Section. Greg is a member of the American Bar Association where he serves on the LPM PublishGregory Siskind has experience handling all aspects of immigration and nationality law and has represented numerous clients throughout the world. Mr. Siskind provides consultations to corporations and individuals on immigration law issues and handles cases before the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of State, the Department of Labor and other government agencies. Gregory Siskind is also committed to community service. He regularly provides free legal services to indigent immigration clients and speaks at community forums to offer information on immigration issues.
Greg regularly writes on the subject of immigration law. He has written several hundred articles on the subject and is also the author of the new book The J Visa Guidebook, published by Matthew Bender and Company, one of the nation's leading legal publishers. He is working on another book for Matthew Bender on entertainment and sports immigration.
Greg is also, in many ways, a pioneer in the use of the Internet in the legal profession. He was one of the first lawyers in the country (and the very first immigration lawyer) to set up a web site for his practice. And he was the first attorney in the world to distribute a firm newsletter via e-mail listserv. Mr. Siskind is the author of the American Bar Association's best selling book, The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. He has been interviewed and profiled in a number of leading publications and media including USA Today, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Lawyers Weekly, the ABA Journal, the National Law Journal, American Lawyer, Law Practice Management Magazine, National Public Radio's All Things Considered and the Washington Post. As one of the leading experts in the country on the use of the Internet in a legal practice, Greg speaks regularly at forums across the United States, Canada and Europe.
In his personal life, Greg is the husband of Audrey Siskind and the proud father of Eden Shoshana and Lily Jordana. He also enjoys collecting rare newspapers and running in marathons and triathlons. He can be reached by email at GSiskind@visalaw.com
Amy Ballentine is an associate in Siskind, Susser & Haas's Memphis, Tennessee office. She graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Rhodes College in 1994. While in law school at the University of Memphis she was a member of the law review staff as well as a published author. She also worked with the local public defenderís office in death penalty cases. In May 1999, she graduated Cum Laude from the University of Memphis Law School. She is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org