January 18, 2002
Tyson Foods Inc., America's largest meat producer, has a weakness for sharp practices.
When Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas, where Tyson is based, there were allegations of influence-peddling in the state government, aggravated by the fact that the governor's wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, also served as a lawyer for Tyson. When Bill Clinton was president, a Tyson executive was convicted and sent to prison for trying to bribe Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy. (The executive was later pardoned by President Clinton.)
Now comes news that Tyson faces a 36-count federal indictment for reducing costs in its poultry factories by smuggling illegal aliens into the country from Mexico and providing them with fraudulent work papers. The government asserts that Tyson arranged for illegal aliens to be delivered to 15 plants in nine states, and obtained phony documents for the aliens so that they would be legally employable in the counties and states where the Tyson plants were situated.
A Tyson spokesman denies that there was any companywide "conspiracy" to deliberately augment its workforce with illegal aliens, blaming the charges on a few rogue managers at certain plants. But the sheer volume of the charges, and that the rogue managers operated at so many plants in so many states, suggest that Tyson may be more involved than its public-relations department claims.
To be sure, Tyson remains innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. But this extraordinary case illuminates not just Tyson Foods Inc., but the larger problem of illegal aliens in the U.S. economy.
The immigration laws are unambiguous, and ought to be enforced: Illegal aliens have no more inherent right to employment than they have to taxpayer-funded social services. And companies that knowingly import illegal aliens to cut costs are undermining not just their competitors, but the rule of law -- and the wages of citizens.
If it is evident that the size and increasing strength of the U.S. economy require more workers than we can generate here at home, then it might be time to revisit the immigration laws and encourage the importation of greater numbers of potential employees for jobs Americans don't want or cannot fill. There is, however, no excuse for knowingly violating the law now.