Felons, Homeless Fill Jobs Left After Immigration Raid At Plant

Felons, homeless fill jobs left after immigration raid at plant

The Associated Press – STILLMORE, Ga.

A south Georgia poultry plant is busing in felons on probation and homeless men to fill jobs left empty when federal immigration agents arrested illegal Mexican immigrants in raids two months ago.

Each day, about 40 convicted felons from the Macon Diversion Center are bused in to work at the Crider Poultry plant in Stillmore. Sixteen men from the Garden City Rescue Mission in Augusta have worked in the plant, and the mission is looking to send more.

Crider President David Purtle said that's just a drop in the bucket for a plant operating at 450 employees, less than half of the 1,000 workers there before the raid.

To fill the gap, Crider also has been outsourcing jobs in its raw deboning plant to Alabama, has raised wages to attract new workers and has turned to an outside company to hire about 100 cleaning workers. The plant has seen its processing slow down because of the smaller workforce, officials said.

Purtle said the company is also spending more on hiring _ paying to bus in the probationers, for example _ and on training, because many of the new hires have poor attendance and quit quickly.

Federal immigration officials began visiting the plant in May, estimating that about 700 workers there were using false identification. Many employees were confronted and fired. Some left on their own.

Over Labor Day, federal agents raided the plant and rounded up more than 120 illegal immigrants working at Crider or living in surrounding counties. Since then, residents say Stillmore's Mexican population has plummeted, leaving the plant with a huge labor gap.

Since the raid, at least two landlords who had rented to immigrants have put their properties on the market. Hispanic-run stores are also struggling.

“There's no people anymore,” said Liliana Santos, a clerk at a downtown store stocked with Mexican fruit sodas and snacks.

Pastor Ariel Rodriguez said some people have gone back to Mexico, while the majority went to Kentucky, following a priest who used to live near Stillmore.

Since the mid-1990s, Stillmore _ a town of about 1,000, 178 miles south of Atlanta _ had grown dependent on the paychecks of Mexican workers who originally came for seasonal farm labor, picking the area's famous Vidalia onions. Many then took year-round jobs at the Crider plant.