The latest anti-immigration proclamation by U.S. President Donald Trump could directly impact the ability of Tyson Fresh Meats in Perry to hire laborers.
Trump’s Jan. 31 executive order suspends immigrant visas for nationals of Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar and Nigeria starting Feb. 22. It will also restrict diversity visas for citizens of Sudan and Tanzania, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. State Department.
Refugees from Eritrea and Myanmar have been the most frequently hired workers at the Tyson’s Perry plant in recent years. Alberto Olguin, human resources director at Tyson Fresh Meats, said he is unsure whether the latest immigration ban will have an effect in Perry.
“We do hire refugees,” Olguin said. “We hope this will not have any effect, but we will see. It’s hard to tell at this point. Maybe by March or April we will know more. It’s still early.”
Tyson is the largest employer of refugees in Dallas County. The company currently employs 1,368 workers at the Perry plant, and about 800 of the employees are refugees, with 400 each of Africans and Asians.
Olguin said some nine languages are spoken among Tyson’s refugee workers, most of whom commute daily from Des Moines, but some choose both to work and live in Perry or the surrounding area. He said the Perry plant’s low turnover rate might shield it from Trump’s latest ban.
“Maybe other companies are more dependent,” Olguin said, “but we are sitting pretty well with a low turnover rate. We hope it will be a minimal effect, if any, for us.”
Annette Sheckler, director of communications for U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), said the Trump administration’s immigration policies are “selectively discriminatory” because they are based on the religions and nationalities of immigrants and refugees.
“USCRI strongly opposes the administration’s alarming efforts to drastically cut immigration to the U.S.,” Sheckler said. She said Trump’s anti-immigration policy is harming employers around the country, and the latest ban will aggravate the condition.
“Definitely, it’s going to have an impact,” she said. “In many smaller communities around the country, and especially in industries like meat packing, which is kind of rough and dirty, American workers are not applying for jobs there. It’s our new Americans, the refugees and immigrants, who are taking these jobs. Tyson’s has a huge workforce made up of Somalis, Eritreans and people from Myanmar, disproportionate to the number of people they hire.”
Schekler said many communities see young people leave their small towns and move to urban centers, causing a shortage of labor, and the towns are happy to receive refugees.
“We settle refugees in communities that are likely to have employment,” she said, “and certainly the agro-industry is one of these industries where there’s job openings. The communities want the labor. And then you’ve got a whole new community with many coming into the family. They’re buying cars. They’re buying houses. They’re buying groceries. They’re opening up little businesses. So communities are actually contacting us and asking us to settle refugees.”
Cities and states might want the new workers, but the Trump administration does not. A September 2019 executive order gave state and local governments the right to reject refugees for the first time. So far only Texas has exercised the right of rejection. According to the U.S. State Department, 33 states had requested refugee-resettlement programs by Dec. 28, 2019, including 15 states governed by Republicans.
Trump’s latest round of exclusions partly frustrated Iowa’s recently expressed state and local willingness to accept refugees for resettlement. The states and localities know they need the workers, Schekler said, but Trump’s immigration czar, Stephen Miller, has other ideas for America.
“It’s not a response to public opinion,” Schekler said. “It’s not a response to the economy. It’s not a response to what the people think and want. That’s the thing. We all know our system needs to be fixed. That’s clear. But at the same time, you don’t go to zero immigration when our economy requires more labor. All of the numbers on the macro and micro level say that refugees and immigrants make a net gain in the economy.”
Anti-immigration has been a central plank in Trump’s MAGA platform. He moved aggressively against illegal immigrants with his proposed border wall with Mexico, and his efforts to curb legal immigration were similarly robust, from his Muslim travel bans to his referring to Haiti, El Salvador and a number of African nations as “shithole countries” during a Jan. 12, 2018, meeting with congressional leaders on the subject of immigration.
Trump’s original travel ban was twice struck down by the courts and now indefinitely bans people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea and certain government officials from Venezuela from obtaining most immigrant and non-immigrant visas to the U.S.