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Even Opponents Call Iowa Anti-immigration Ad Factually Accurate

"Borderline racist" ad is based on a decade-old study. "An evil soul producing holy witness?"

January 12, 2004

Modified: January 12, 2004

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Summary

 

An ad running heavily in Iowa says meatpackers replaced Iowans with thousands of foreign workers and then cut wages “almost in half.” That claim is true, according to academics who studied the Iowa meatpacking industry. But the same academics disagree with the ad’s anti-immigration message and one called it “borderline racist.” One Iowa TV station stopped running it.

Analysis

 

The ad is paid for by a by the Coalition for the Future American Worker, a consortium of groups seeking curbs on immigration. It shows an inflatable dummy being punched repeatedly while a narrator says "greedy corporations and politicians" beat up on Iowa workers by favoring immigrant workers.

Issue Ad:

“Out Of Work Iowa

Announcer (Over pictures of an inflatable dummy being punched repeatedly):

How much longer can Iowa workers be the punching bags for greedy corporations and politicians? First, meatpackers replaced Iowans with thousands of foreign workers. Next, wages were cut almost in half. Now, politicians want new laws to import millions more foreign workers and give amnesty to illegal aliens. Tell the candidates no more foreign workers and no amnesty for millions here illegally.

Paid for by the Coalition For The Future American Worker.

The ad claims that wages fell by nearly half after meatpackers brought in foreign workers, and that’s factually accurate even according to critics of the ad. It is based on a study of a meatpacking plant in Storm Lake , Iowa published in the book "Any Way You Cut It" about the meatpacking industry. The Storm Lake plant began using imported workers after being taken over by the big national meatpacking company IBP, now owned by Tyson Fresh Meats. The study found that the plant’s payroll averaged $30,000 per worker in 1982, but only $23,000 in 1991. And adjusting for inflation, the study found the average hourly wage paid to meatpackers in Iowa fell from $10.75 in 1982 to $5.65 in 1991, a decrease of 47 percent.

One of the book’s editors, Prof. Donald Stull, an anthropologist at the University of Kansas , told FactCheck.org that he disagrees with the ad’s political message but can’t argue with its facts.

“I . . . have studied the meat and poultry industry throughout the United States and Canada  since 1987, and the trends are quite clear--and consistent--depressed wages, increased reliance on immigrant workers, strong opposition to unions.”

The study was conducted by Prof. Mark Grey of the University of Northern Iowa , who said he had attempted to have the ad taken off the air even though it is “a fair paraphrase” of his own work. “As a matter of fact and history, I can find nothing inaccurate about their assessment of changes in the industry. However, I disagree in the strongest terms possible with how they use this information to justify their borderline racist, anti-immigration advertisements and political activities.”

Prof. Grey is now director of his university’s “New Iowans Program which works to welcome immigrants. He describes himself as “one of Iowa 's most active and outspoken advocates for the reception and accommodation of immigrant and refugee newcomers.” Prof. Grey argues in his writings that Iowa has a severe labor shortage and faces economic stagnation without an influx of immigrant workers. He says the state has lost population since the 1980s, that about half its college and university graduates leave the state, and that the workforce would decline by about three percent even if every high-school graduate stayed in the state between 2000 and 2005.

Labor unions had complained about the ad. Mark Smith, president of the Iowa Federation of Labor, said "It's just racist stuff with no factual basis." Iowa's New York Times-owned TV station WHO-TV stopped running it after station general manager Jim Boyer called it "unnecessarily inflaming and borderline racist."

Actually the ad makes no reference to race, though many of Iowa's recent immigrants are from Mexico or Asia. Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Coalition for the Future American Worker, disagreed with those who object to his group's ad. "All it is (is) somebody punching a pop-up dummy," the Des Moines Register quoted him as saying. "If they find that objectionable, I would challenge them to tell us how to raise the issue of immigration."

Prof. Grey said that by accurately using his own research, the ad "reminds me of a passage in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, Act I, Scene III:

The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.

An evil soul producing holy witness,

Is like a villain with smiling cheek;

A goodly apple rotten at the heart;

O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!

Sources

 

Donald Stull, Michael Broadway, and David Griffith (eds.), Any Way You Cut It: Meatpacking and Small-Town America University Press of Kansas 1995.

Mark A. Grey “ Welcoming New Iowans ” University of Northern Iowa.

Brianna Blake and Jonathan Roos, "Labor leaders blast ad by anti-immigration group," Des Moines Register 1 Jan. 2004.

"Labor leaders urge immigration ads pulled," The Associated Press State & Local Wire 1 Jan. 2004.

"TV station pulls political ad opposed by labor leaders," The Associated Press State & Local Wire 2 Jan. 2004.

Brianna Blake, "KCCI keeps ad against immigration," Des Moines Register 7 Jan. 2004.