Flow of Immigrants Too Fast for Some Critics

As far as Roy Beck is concerned, high levels of immigration are the businessman's best friend, and the average worker's all-American nightmare.

He represents the conservative side of the immigration debate - one that almost always appears on the national agenda, despite the fact this is a country of made-up almost entirely of immigrants.

Mr. Beck, author of the book "The Case Against Immigration," says levels of legal immigration should be cut way back to protect American workers.

To bolster his argument, he uses the history of the meat-packing industry in the Midwest. At the turn of the century, working conditions were dangerous and the pay was low. Workers went on strike. The industry responded by going to then Yugoslavia and recruiting new immigrant workers.

The strikers lost out.

Then in the mid-1920's, Congress drastically cut levels of legal immigration. Beck contends that set the stage for workers to organize without fear of loosing their jobs. And over the next 40 years, meat packing grew into a highly unionized, high paying, and safer industry.

Then in the 1980's, companies like Iowa Beef Processors (IBP) transformed and modernized meat packing. They brought their factories closer to the rural areas where the cattle was raised, and instead of shipping whole carcasses, they packaged cuts of beef that could shipped much more cheaply.

They also brought in immigrants who were willing to work for $7 to $10 an hour - about half the union wage.

"15 years ago they were great jobs," says Beck. "If it's bad there now, it's only because of the immigrants."

But other economists contend the industry was simply becoming more efficient and productive. They say the immigrants play a major role in keeping the economy growing. While some firms may have exploited immigrant labor to undercut unions, they note that Congress passed laws in the 1980s to prevent such behavior.

"The generosity of immigration is very much a part of the American identity," says Arthur Helton, of the Open Society Institute in New York.

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