Still More On Stillmore

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It's an illegal immigrant bonanza today with the Christian Science Monitor now weighing in on the story about Stillmore, Georgia and the "crackdown" on the illegal immigrants working at a food processing plant there. I have been posting about this town since the first AP story broke on it.

Many of those who weren't arrested fled, some to Kentucky. One family hid for two nights in a tree. As night sets now, a sprinkling of solitary lights glow from once-crowded trailer parks. Since the Labor Day raid, Stillmore, where the wishful sign at the city limit reads "A town that is still growing," has shrunk by at least a third after more than 120 people were arrested and perhaps as many as 300 others disappeared.

"It's a ghost town," says resident Bennett Byrd.

As federal, state, and local officials crack down on illegal immigrants across the country, attitudes continue to harden among those who want them to stay and those who want them to go. In places like Stillmore, Ga., Arkadelphia, Ark., and Charlotte, N.C., raids and crackdowns have uncorked a phenomenon for those left behind: a sense of moral confusion about mass roundups and midnight raids.

"There's a tension between working alongside these people, understanding their impact on the economy, and then some of the issues of a community being able or not able to sustain this kind of immigration," says Allan Burns, an anthropologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville. "People are divided."

In Stillmore, the Crider plant does everything from poultry processing to packing M&Ms for the military to grilling the ribs for restaurant franchises, employees say. In a town of about 1,000 people, more than half of them were working there. The plant's success was driven by a hardworking labor supply that began arriving about four years ago.

After reading the AP story and this one, the Christian Science Monitor does a better job of neutral reporting, by far and away. The AP quoted a lot of people who were upset by the personal financial losses they had incurred when all the illegals fled. The CSM has both sides presented. But they also note the one overarching truth of the result of the crackdown: Wages rose for legal workers afterward.

In Stillmore, the raids forced Americans to confront their own beliefs. Residents such as Larry Hadden saw friendly and "clean" people invigorating the town's economy. To see them chased "like rabbits" through the underbrush troubled him, as did watching as women and children were left behind without resources.

Others, including resident Carolyn Byrd, see the ICE roundup as justified. Her son, Bennett, was a manager of the Crider plant for years. He said that Hispanics worked harder than anyone else. But they also took jobs, including his.

Now the plant is paying a dollar more an hour than before the raid, to draw new workers from neighboring counties. "With the illegals gone, Americans have a chance to make more money," says Mr. Byrd.

The flood of illegal labor drove wages down and cost higher paid workers their jobs. When the illegals left, wages had to rise to attract workers. Stillmore can look forward to growing with legal residents since the work at higher wages is there.

Maybe it's just because I've been covering this pretty extensively but I see a definite pattern here in the media. There are essentially two stories that are being regurgitated by multiple media outlets: Stillmore, Georgia and California growers not having enough illegal workers. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

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