Mississippi Food Processing Company Is Looking For Workers After ICE Raids
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In Mississippi, one of the food processing companies that was raided last week by immigration officials is now looking for workers. Nearly 700 people were arrested in those raids. Some of them worked at plants operated by Koch Foods. Today, Koch held a job fair in the town of Forest, Miss. NPR's Debbie Elliott was there and sends this report.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Early morning, it seemed as if members of the media outnumbered job applicants at the WIN Job Center.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Oh, no media.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: No media.
ELLIOTT: No media.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: What is that?
ELLIOTT: A security guard turned reporters away as a steady stream of people went inside to put in an application. Amanda Steele of Morton got here early before the doors opened.
AMANDA STEELE: Well, I'm, you know, finding a job, and I heard they might be doing some hiring. And me and my daughter come here Friday, and we did an application. And we seen the sign that said they were going to have the job fair. And then we come on out this morning. We got up at 6 o'clock this morning ready to go. Hopefully, we walk out of here with some good news, with a job.
ELLIOTT: Steele and other applicants say they had to provide two forms of identification, including a Social Security card. She has mixed feelings about the ICE raids that separated some families.
STEELE: Yeah, you know, I feel bad for the little kids, too. You know, their mom and dad's out of a job, you know, but I've been out of a job too, you know?
ELLIOTT: A little over a hundred people had put in applications by mid-morning according to Mississippi Department of Employment Security spokeswoman Dianne Bell.
DIANNE BELL: This is actually business as usual for us. We do not have a multitude of people coming in.
ELLIOTT: The WIN Job Center is a centralized job search location, and Bell says it's typical for the agency to host job fairs and collect applications for companies. Bell says Koch Foods asked for this job fair last Wednesday, the day of the raids. She does not know how many workers Koch needs, and no one from the company was at the job fair site.
Koch's chicken processing plant in Morton, Miss., employs more than a thousand people at peak production. In a statement, Koch said it does not yet know how many workers were arrested and said the raid resulted in a significant disruption of work. Morton Mayor Gerald Keeton hopes Koch can find the workers it needs to stay in business.
GERALD KEETON: Koch Food is the largest employer in our city, and they're attributed to approximately 45% of our total revenue in our city. So, you know, that's - if they are not here, we're in trouble.
ELLIOTT: Twenty-two-year-old Kamerio Whitley came from Lake, Miss., to apply. He says he used to work at the plant.
KAMERIO WHITLEY: I want to do my old job - hanging birds, rehanging cold birds.
ELLIOTT: Whitley says there's a misconception that only people here illegally want the poultry jobs.
WHITLEY: They won't complain about the job as much as everybody else, but I believe that all of the jobs in these chicken plants are fairly easy.
ELLIOTT: He sees the ICE raids as an opportunity. So does Rodney Reid of Forest.
RODNEY REID: Well, I'm currently employed right now at a lumber mill, but it just don't cut it. It just don't pay, and these chicken plants pay twice what I'm getting paid now, so I'm trying to shoot for better.
ELLIOTT: Workers there can make upwards of $10 an hour.
REID: A lot of these people right from right here need these jobs, you know? If they were over here illegally - I mean, it's rough out here. They come over here and tell me, it's hard to beat them out. They're going to work cheaper, you know what I'm saying? It used to be you come down here and put these applications in, you was wasting your time.
ELLIOTT: Reid says he actually feels confident about getting a job this time.
Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Forest, Miss. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.