More and more workers on processing lines, especially in meat packing plants, are foreign born.
Given the harshness of the labor, and modest wages and benefits, line workers don't find a lot of competition for the jobs. Indeed, sometimes companies have difficulty securing and retaining a labor force. In some plants, turnover may be as high as 100 percent a year. So, demand for workers to fill some of the most dangerous jobs in the country is nearly constant. In some instances that has encouraged illegal aliens to enter the workforce.
But this week a high profile court case charging a leading poultry processor of recruiting illegal workers went against the government's prosecution.
A federal jury in Chattanooga, Tennessee deliberated less than a day before acquitting Tyson Foods and three of its managers on all charges in an immigrant conspiracy case.
The defendants were accused of hiring and transporting illegal immigrants and fraudulent documents.
Barbara Hailey, Juror in Tyson trial: "I was appalled the government didn't have more hard evidence than they did."
During the seven-week trial, an Assistant U.S. attorney contended Tyson's top executives knew of the illegal hiring. The company claimed the hiring was done independently by just a few managers who violated corporate "zero tolerance" policy on illegal hiring.
Since the case began, the judge dismissed 24 of 36 charges stemming from a three-year undercover investigation of Tyson. Evidence included hundreds of secretly recorded conversations in which undercover agents and Tyson managers arranged for illegal immigrant workers.
In 2001, the company and six managers were indicted. But one defendant fatally shot himself, and two others reached plea agreements then testified for the government.
If the managers had been convicted, they would've faced a maximum prison sentence of five years and a $250,000 fine.