Love Meat and Dairy? Thank Illegal Immigrants

Thank Illegal Immigrants For Your Meat And Dairy

The American meat and dairy industries almost exclusively rely on the exploitation of undocumented workers.

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A couple days ago, the longest government shutdown in American history came to an end, with Trump signing a short-term three week government funding bill that didn't include his signature policy goal of a border wall. This bipartisan agreement was reached in the hopes that Congress could come up with a solution to increase border security.

In keeping up with the very public debate our nation has been having about the "crisis" of illegal immigration, I've noticed that there's one aspect of this thorny issue which is consistently ignored, most notably by those like Trump who are immigration hardliners; the truth is that our meat and dairy industries could not function without the labor of so-called illegal immigrants.

Despite Trump's claim that immigrants are stealing American jobs, undocumented immigrants often do incredibly difficult jobs that native-born workers simply aren't willing to do. This is notably the case in the agriculture industry, where unauthorized immigrants make up about half of the labor force, according to Department of Agriculture estimates.

A 2017 research study of New York dairy farmers found that most turned to undocumented workers after struggling to find U.S. citizens willing to take up such dangerous and demanding work. Farmers in the Midwest, in dairy-producing states like Wisconsin, see the employment of undocumented workers as the result of a rural labor shortage, though some argue that if wages were raised, more citizens would want those jobs.

This line of thinking points to a larger, structural problem. Employers have an incentive to hire undocumented workers because they can pay them less and make them work in horrible working conditions, and these workers have no legal recourse to resist this abuse and exploitation. According to the fundamental law of economics, where there is demand, there is going to be supply; and no border wall or steel-slat barrier is going to alter this situation.

Moreover, the fact that these workers aren't here legally allows meat and dairy companies to deny them rights they would otherwise have and punish workers who dare to speak up. Indeed, the operations of slaughterhouses aren't just bad for animal welfare; they're also awful when it comes to human welfare.

Undocumented workers are forced to work in horrible conditions for extremely low pay and, because of their legal status, are far less likely to unionize. Those in slaughterhouse cleanup crews have gotten gruesome injuries working around highly dangerous equipment. The chicken industry is notorious for its abysmal working conditions. Four companies control the majority of the poultry market- Tyson Foods, Pilgrim's, Perdue, and Sanderson Farms- and with the industrialization of the industry, workers have been pushed to the limit to boost productivity: being forced to repeat the same motions over and over again, standing in the frigid air in pools of blood.

A woman named Delores who works at a plant in Arkansas, my home state, told Oxfam she was denied a bathroom break many times and had to start wearing Pampers. A study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that 34 percent of poultry workers showed signs of carpal tunnel syndrome, an extremely painful nerve disorder often caused by repetitive activity. Case Farms, which produces chicken for KFC, Popeyes, and Taco Bell, has repeatedly failed to comply with federal workplace-safety standards and used its employees undocumented status to avoid paying for injuries. These practices are an affront to basic human dignity.

Under Trump's anti-immigrant zeal, ICE has increased workplace raids, leaving workers at risk of deportation and silencing them even more from speaking out; and while workers themselves are arrested, the owners of these factories usually aren't. So after some workers are deported, more undocumented immigrants are hired to replace them and the cycle of exploitation continues because it is in the economic interest of the meat companies.

Meanwhile, Trump supporters have the audacity to declare their steadfast opposition to illegal immigration while enjoying the cheap and tasty meat that is the result of this system of abuse and exploitation.

The system for making animal products in this country is fundamentally immoral. It not only violates animal rights. The abuses and conditions I have described violate human rights. This is an injustice we should not ignore. Despite my dreams of a vegan utopia, I recognize that the meat and dairy industries are not going to just disappear overnight; but these industries can and should be pressured by consumers into changing their behavior. There are flickers of hope.

Last year, on my 18th birthday interestingly, undocumented dairy workers in Vermont won a huge victory when Ben and Jerry's signed their Milk with Dignity agreement, giving workers a full day off each week and minimum wage. These activists managed to accomplish this despite the fact that their outspoken activism made them at risk of deportation.

Ultimately, we must be the change we wish to see in the world. I think boycotting the products of these companies is the best way to put your beliefs into action, but I acknowledge that many won't like that conclusion. But next time you eat a McChicken nugget, pause to reflect on where your meat is coming from and remember the undocumented workers laboring in horrible conditions in slaughterhouses and decide whether you want to do something or do nothing.

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What It Means To Be An American

A country built upon immigration
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I’d like to ask you, today's America, what you think of when you imagine this country. When you hear the word America, what other words are the first to pop into your head? The first word that pops into my head is privilege. I feel like this word is often misconstrued when it’s used to describe things like America. When I say privilege, I don’t mean it in the sense that our country isn’t ravaged with war, and our people aren’t living in destitute huts, dying from diseases that they don’t have the medical care to solve. No. When I say privilege, I mean the privilege of being an American.

When I was younger, I thought being an American meant either being born in this country or coming into this country and gaining citizenship. I thought it meant living and working in this country, participating actively in society. As I’ve grown and have truly seen how my own country works, I’ve realized that this is in fact not what it means to be an American. You see, since the inception of this country that millions of people from all different backgrounds call home, to be American has meant to be considered white. Before you dismiss this article as simply another rant about the racism in our country, which is very much there, listen to what I have to say next.

Being American doesn’t simply lie within having citizenship. Millions of Mexicans, Syrians, Israelis, Filipinos, Venezuelans, Austrians, Italians, Spanish, etc. all have citizenship in this country. Either they were born here, or they earned citizenship later on in life. However, having citizenship in this country does not guarantee that you are free, it does not guarantee that you have rights, it does not guarantee that you have opportunities, and it can be taken from you at any second. Last semester I wrote a paper in my Asian American Literature class about the myth of assimilation. The term assimilation refers to the supposed process of “westernizing” oneself and adapting American ideals and ways of life in order to become a citizen.

The myth goes that one must assimilate in order to become an American, even after gaining citizenship. This, as suggested by the term myth, is untrue. Think of, for example, the Japanese American citizens who were wrongly mass incarcerated during WWII. Seventy-five percent of the people who were incarcerated during WWII were “natural-born” citizens of the United States. By standard definition, a citizen is anyone who is born in the United States, or who gains citizenship by proving their loyalty and knowledge of the United States through the process of attaining citizenship from the federal government. This is not, unfortunately, the working definition of a U.S. citizen. The reason I say this is because a U.S. citizen is meant to have certain rights and freedoms, certain protections. These privileges of being a citizen are not bestowed upon those who are not considered white. These privileges are not allowed to be had and used by those who are considered “foreign.”

The idea that I would like to present to you today is that this way of thinking, that to be a true American you must be a white citizen, goes entirely against the ideals that this country was built upon. You see, 95 percent of today’s American society is not actually American by the popularized standards. The thousands, if not millions, of people who claim that this country should only be for Americans, for people who are originally from here, are in fact not American by their own definition. Unless you are a Native American who is part of a Native tribe that was here long before America became America, you are not an American. Those very people who consider themselves “all-American” and a natural-born citizen are immigrants. They are in fact not naturalized citizens, but are instead Europeans who immigrated here in search of better lives and refuge. They are people whose ancestors determined that their own needs were greater than those who they saw as different from them, and those who had little means to defend their own homelands.

This country and all of its success was built upon the strength and hard work of immigrants who were privileged enough to be able to create their own citizenships and their own rules. Our very Constitution and Bill of Rights are the statements declaring Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Assembly, the Freedom against persecution, and other basic human rights that state that we are all created equal. Even so, people in current society just don’t seem to understand that we are a country built around acceptance and the coming together of a diverse range of backgrounds and beliefs. To all of you out there who presently agree with the way our country is being run, I’d personally like to ask you to think about what it means to you to be an American, and what it meant to be an American when this country was founded. I’d like to ask you to think twice about who you tell to go back to their countries, about what human rights mean to you. The rights that we are all entitled to as Americans are being denied to an extremely large portion of our current population, and it is due to the misinformation that acts as the foundation of our privileged white citizens’ beliefs. No matter what non-white Americans do, no matter how “assimilated” they appear to be, they are not treated as Americans, and they do not have the rights that they deserve.

Cover Image Credit: redbubble.com

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Introducing Miah Johnson

"It made me learn to love and live in every moment as if it were the last." -Miah Johnson

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It was Daddy Donut day at Teasley Elementary School, but for Miah Johnson, it was just another day in which she had to pretend everything was okay. It had been a month since Miah's dad was deported and left her hopeless.

As Johnson took her last sip of coffee she laughs. She shares how hard it was for her to talk about her father. Many people do not know about the days she spent crying because she needed him, or how she was not sure if they would ever move past the hard times. How she went days without being able to eat a proper meal because they did not have enough money to make ends meet. Ashamed and embarrassed she shares her memories of going to church early in the morning for bread, canned soup, and powdered milk. She explains that there are times when she gets excited to share something with her father but strange darkness takes over and she loses hope that one day a real relationship with him will exist.

Johnson was born in Fort Lauderdale Florida in 1999. She is the only child of her small sheltered loving family. Her childhood was a fairy tale, her best friend was her stepfather, "I wasn't his biological daughter, but he raised me as one and I will always be grateful for the memories." Johnson's eyes flood with tears as she reminiscences on her past. School work was the best way she coped with her loss. She always made herself busy, if she didn't have any homework she would read, pick up a new hobby or dance. Going to bed was the hardest part of her day. All of the thoughts and feelings she fought so hard to keep away came pouring out in a way she does not know how to describe. Not having her father broke her in many ways, but the one she speaks about most often is not having a financially and emotionally stable home.

Johnson attended Elon University on a full ride her freshman year but decided to transfer to a school closer to home. Johnson was not ready to leave she admitted quietly. She describes that there was a shift in her during her first semester there, for the first time she failed classes, gained 20 pounds and lost her scholarship. Her failure comes from a lack of stability and support. The friendships she made there weren't enough to keep her there, she could no longer afford the prestigious college. Now she takes classes online at Kennesaw State University. She has to work two jobs in order to make ends meet for her and her family. Johnson laughs at the situation and explains how her father used to lecture her on how education is the best way out of their situation. Now she feels like she has disappointed him and that she has to make up for the broken promise.

There is never enough money. Johnson has made plans to visit her father multiple times but has never been able to visit him. There is always something that comes up. Her mother's car broken down the first time, they couldn't afford to pay the bills the other time, and the last time she needed a car of her own to help get to and from work. She shows a screenshot of her bank account. Negative eight dollars. She sighs and states that life has a funny way of getting in the way of the important things.

Johnson believes that if her father was still here, it would be different. She would have never known what it was like to go hungry, feel so hopeless, and do not have a stable home.

She explains that it was an experience she doesn't share because it is painful to talk about but, "It made me learn to love and live in every moment as if it were the last."

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