For decades, the company had largely relied on Mayan immigrants fleeing violence in Guatemala, many of whom were not allowed to work in the United States. Case Farms’ history with the Mayans reveals how U.S. companies subvert immigration laws to take advantage of undocumented immigrants, but it also illustrates a broader — and perhaps underappreciated — truth about the American economy: So much of it depends on a never-ending global scramble for low-skilled labor.
Low-wage industries depend heavily on migrants from the world’s hotspots, secured through refugee programs as well as other means. That reliance has prompted some of the nation’s meatpackers to fear that under Trump the global marketplace may shut down, resulting in labor shortages that, they say, will drive up prices and reduce food supplies. “A legal immigration system that works is the best way to address illegal immigration,” Cargill chief executive David MacLennan wrote recently. “We must not close our minds or our borders.”
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