As Vice Chairman of the board of United Producers, Inc., a livestock marketing cooperative, Lynn Orr regularly tours meatpacking plants around Ohio, where the workforce is mostly comprised of immigrants. Orr understands that without immigrants, his industry would suffer significantly.
Orr is a registered Republican and third-generation farmer who was born and raised in Ohio. He and his wife, also an Ohio native and, like him, an Ohio State University graduate, both come from agriculture families. Their family-run cattle farm has about 100 mother cows and, at any given time, about 250 head of cattle, which graze on grain and grass.
Orr strongly believes that providing a streamlined, legal path to citizenship is crucial to the survival of his industry. Cattle farmers sell their product to meatpacking facilities, which depend on immigrant labor. “If those places can’t get labor, they’re going to either downsize tremendously or close down — probably the latter,” says Orr. “This is a low-margin industry. If they don’t have a lot of production, they’re not going to make money.”
When Orr hears people argue that the absence of immigrants will lead to more job opportunities for locals, he shakes his head. Even though these jobs pay well above the minimum wage, he says, locals born in America don’t apply. If immigrants leave, he says, “we’re just not going to have the workforce to fill that void.”
[Without immigrants] my business would have to adapt and do something else other than meat production. It would be a big change and a big hit to farmers everywhere.
The impact of meatpacking plant closures will be felt near and far, says Orr. For cattle farmers like him, fewer meatpacking plants means fewer ways for farmers to get their product to the customer. “The only way we can get rid of my product is to export live animals, which is very costly,” says Orr. “My business would have to adapt and do something else other than meat production. It would be a big change and a big hit to farmers everywhere.”
Furthermore, as unfilled jobs lead to plant closures, the larger industry will contract and be forced to eliminate those jobs that Americans actually do seek. “The next level is, it’s going to hurt the jobs that they do want, whether it’s in offices or trucking — all the support industries are going to suffer as well.”
For Orr, immigration reform is vital to the American economy and helps everyone, no matter where they were born. “In our own community, we have a lot of immigrant workers. The stereotype is that they can cause trouble, but from what we’ve seen, they’re really good people. They’re good workers and they have good morals. I think they add to the community.” Orr also believes that immigration reform is vital to the American economy. As a Republican, Orr says he would like to see the leaders of his party put the nation’s financial health first, and that means moving past “political bickering” and anti-immigrant rhetoric. Provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, he says. “Make it legal so we can get immigrants in to do these jobs,” he says. “I think that would go a long way in solving the border problems we have. If there’s a legal system then you don’t have the illegal process, which is dangerous.”