March 7, 2007 / 5:57 PM / 11 years ago

Hormel wants long-term immigration plan

<p>Hormel CEO Jeff Ettinger speaks during the Reuters Food Summit in Chicago March 6, 2007. REUTERS/John Gress (UNITED STATES)</p>

CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. meat company Hormel Foods Corp., (HRL.N) which makes Spam luncheon meat and Dinty Moore canned stew, said it hopes the U.S. Congress can develop an immigration plan that will allow foreign workers to stay in the country longer.

A guest-worker program that would allow stays of several years has been discussed in Washington, but Hormel’s top executive said a longer-term plan is needed.

“That is not the complete answer. Neither the company nor the employee wants people coming in for a few months leaving, coming in two years later, leaving. Communities are built by people staying,” Jeffrey Ettinger, Hormel’s chief executive, said Tuesday at the Reuters Food Summit in Chicago.

The meat industry relies heavily on foreign-born workers and ensuring those workers are in the country legally has been difficult for meat companies. Particularly with some illegal immigrants able to provide official looking documents.

“That makes it very hard for us to tell, next to impossible, as to whether to OK this validly issued drivers license that doesn’t have any other evidence of being tampered with,” said Ettinger.

The meat industry was rocked late last year when federal agents raided several Swift & Co. meat plants in connection with an identity theft investigation involving illegal immigrants.

Those raids produced calls by the meat industry for immigration reform that would make it easier to hire immigrants who are in the country legally.

“Our hope is this Congress will address immigration reform on a comprehensive basis. It didn’t happen last year, but the political stars may be better aligned this year for that,” Ettinger said.

The meat industry has historically attracted immigrants because it pays better than minimum wage for unskilled labor.

“We really favor a better identification system. We wish the government entities would talk to each other more ... (that) the Social Security Administration would talk to INS and provide shared information,” Ettinger said.

President George W. Bush wants a comprehensive overhaul of U.S. immigration laws with a guest worker program. The most contentious issue is likely to be the question of granting a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants, and lawmakers and administration officials have signaled a willingness to compromise.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and 2008 presidential hopeful, are working on a comprehensive immigration bill, congressional aides have said.

It is likely to be similar to last year’s Senate bill, which they helped write. That bill coupled tough enforcement with a guest worker program and a plan giving millions of illegal immigrants legal status and a chance to earn U.S. citizenship.

In an op-ed piece in the Union-Leader newspaper in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, McCain called for a “sensible” guest-worker program. New Hampshire will hold the nation’s first presidential primaries next January.

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