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Reckless blame

On Oct. 17, the population of the United States reached 300 million. Although the media hyped the milestone, Newsweek reported that the Bush regime wouldn’t be whooping it up because of immigration issues.According to a September U.S News & World Report, the U.S. population has increased 100 million since 1967. Fifty-three percent of the additional bodies are immigrants or their descendents. “About half the 1.5 million immigrants entering the United States (each year) are illegal,” reported Newsweek.The Center for Immigration Studies estimates the illegal immigrant population in the United States is between 8 and 12 million.A 2004 study by the CIS estimated that half of the 2.3-million increase in immigrant employment is related to illegal immigrants.You can blame the Mexicans, Brazilians or whomever, or you can look a little deeper.If American businesses employ illegal immigrants and the government doesn’t enforce the regulations, isn’t it a no-brainer that the illegal immigrant population will grow?It all comes back to one thing: special interest groups – organized pressure groups. When it comes to illegal immigration, American industry defies the border patrol.In 2005, Wal-Mart paid $11 million to settle a federal investigation that found the retail giant had employed more than 300 illegal immigrants to clean its stores over a five-year period. Wal-Mart faulted the 12 companies that provided the contract cleaner services. The dirty dozen pled guilty and paid fines of $4 million.So, Wal-Mart didn’t have a clue that the Spanish-speaking cleaning crew was illegally employed?What about farm workers, roofers, landscapers and slaughterhouse workers? Think their employers are turning in all the I-9s?In October, the Greeley Tribune published an article about a horrific car accident in Greeley. A 17-year-old female ran a stop sign on a country road and her car was hit head on by a pickup truck. She was critically injured, and her passengers – two young children and a 3-month-old – died.The day the story ran, Rep. Dave Schultheis, District 14, sent an e-mail to the reporter, Mike Peters, who published the e-mail in a follow-up editorial. Schultheis asked Peters the following questions: “Was the driver properly licensed? Was the vehicle properly registered and insured? … Was this person the child of parents in the U.S. illegally? Why is it that the investigative reports we read in the papers and see on TV do not point out the fact that these accidents and the resulting cost to taxpayers … are a direct result of our lax immigration policies and enforcement?”The last name of the 17-year-old driver was Bustillos.Peters fired back in his editorial that the car was “properly licensed, insured and titled” and the family had worked in Greeley for 12 years.The controversy played out in the Gazette as well. Reporter Perry Swanson wrote, in reference to the Schultheis e-mail, “It’s the latest of many controversies in Greeley over illegal immigration. … Greeley’s population increased 7.7 percent to 82,836 from 2000 to last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Nearly all of the new residents were Hispanic.”I sent Swanson an e-mail, inquiring about what seemed an obvious connection to me: the Hispanic population and Greeley’s meatpacking industry.Swanson wrote back and said earlier in his career he had written numerous articles about Greeley’s meatpacking industry as a reporter for the Tribune.I spent three hours reading Tribune articles on the Greeley plant. Here’s what I learned.Omaha-based ConAgra Foods – second only to Kraft Foods – is the parent company of Greeley’s meatpacking plant, Swift & Co., formerly known as ConAgra Beef. With 4,500 employees, Swift & Co. is the 20th largest employer in Colorado.According to a 2006 article, “Swift & Co. is currently named in a federal racketeering lawsuit charging that one of its subsidiaries and three other agricultural companies in Idaho have conspired to hire illegal immigrants.”Swift representatives deny the validity of the charges.After reading the article, I e-mailed Schultheis to get his take on illegal hiring practices.Schultheis responded in an e-mail: “It has only been in the past two years that this issue was raised significantly.” Now, let me get this straight. Legislators are lighting fires under their comrades in the House and Senate to deal with illegal immigration, but the issue of employer accountability has just been “raised” in the last two years? Schultheis said he introduced three bills in 2006 that failed to get past the state affairs committee. Two of the bills addressed employers’ responsibility in determining employee work eligibility and immigration status and another demanded stricter verification processes for employees of the retail food business. Schultheis blamed the demise of the bills on the “Democrat-controlled Legislature.”Never mind those bleeding-heart Democrats. What about the federal laws already on the books?Schultheis also referred me to his Web site, where he tries to dispel some “myths” about illegal immigrants. One of them: Illegal immigrants take jobs that Americans won’t. Schultheis said if Americans are paid decent wages, they’ll do the job.I doubt it.Swanson wrote about the jobs inside the meatpacking plant. He wrote about “cattle pushers” (they prod the cows onto the “kill floor”), the “sticker” (he drives the knife into the cow’s neck) and those who count and tag the cow heads as they roll by on the conveyor belt.All for a base wage of about $10 an hour. To Mexicans, it’s caviar; to Americans, it’s peanut butter.There’s a price to pay for the pay. The Tribune stated that, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the beef industry tops all U.S. industries in the highest incidences of injuries and illnesses.Ken Dobbins’ injuries at Swift & Co. were highly publicized in the book, “Fast Food Nation.” Swanson recounted the injuries, which included chemical burns and a broken back, in one of his articles. “Dobbins kept coming back to work because he had nowhere else to go,” Swanson wrote. Dobbins’ 16-year stint with the slaughterhouse ended when Swift fired him after he had a heart attack.I hope that if you take anything away from this column, you’ll realize that we can’t have it all. We can’t point a finger at illegal immigrants and guiltlessly shop at Wal-Mart. We can’t eat a burger unless someone is willing to work in the slaughterhouse (unless we boycott the beef industry and get our meat from a real farmer).We can expect ongoing chaos and the demise of a democracy if we continue to elect men and women who are bathed in special interest monies and coupled with corporate America. It’s not to say that our government representatives shouldn’t be passionate about an issue, from the environment to the small-business community. However, those passions must not override the law and common sense.Demand a government by the people – vote yes on streamlining the petition process – yes on Amendment 38.

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