Angela Stuesse is an associate professor of anthropology at UNC-Chapel Hill who can discuss immigrant labor in the South and particularly the Mississippi poultry industry.
Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The Atlantic, NPR, and many other popular print, radio, and TV outlets.
She is broadly interested in social inequality, and her research and teaching interests include neoliberal globalization, migration, race, labor, human rights, and methodologies of activist research. Her first book (University of California Press 2016), Scratching Out a Living: Latinos, Race, and Work in the Deep South, explores how new Latino migration into Mississippi’s poultry industry has impacted communities and prospects for worker organizing. It is based on six years of activist research engagement with poultry workers and their allies. Her more recent work investigates the intensification of immigrant policing in Atlanta, Georgia with an emphasis on racialized effects and community responses, and the experiences of undocumented young people in higher education.
She has conducted research in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands and in the newer borderlands of the U.S. South.
Prior to UNC-Chapel Hill, she held academic appointments at UCLA, the Ohio State University, and the University of South Florida. She has published in the journals American Anthropologist, Antipode, City & Society, Latino Studies, Southern Spaces, and Human Organization, among others.
Areas of Expertise (7)
University of Texas, Austin: PH.D., Anthropology
University of Texas, Austin: M.A., Latin American Studies
University of Florida: B.A., Anthropology and Latin American Studies
Media Appearances (26)
Arkansas poultry plants hit hard by COVID-19. Hispanic workers are facing the worst of it.
USA Today print
More than 120 social justice groups including Venceremos launched a week of action demanding that Tyson offer paid sick leave, slow line speeds and provide regular testing for workers. For months, Venceremos has held protests and circulated petitions calling for the shutdown of Arkansas plants with COVID-19 cases. “It is clear that the main reason workers feel compelled to go to work when they're sick is that they don't have access to paid sick leave,” said Angela Stuesse, anthropology professor at the University of North Carolina and author of the book “Scratching out a Living: Latinos, Race, and Work in the Deep South.” The Families First Coronavirus Response Act that guaranteed paid sick leave for employees with COVID-19 excluded companies with more than 500 employees, meaning the handful of large companies that dominate the meatpacking industry are exempt from the requirement.
Swept up in historic Mississippi ICE raids a year ago, these undocumented workers are now 'essential'
Angela Stuesse, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina and author of "Scratching Out a Living: Latinos, Race, and Work in the Deep South," said the rural South has long been hostile to organized labor and immigrants. "This has been a unique opportunity for the community to become more visible and to come together both following the raids and in the moment of COVID-19," said Stuesse, who organized Mississippi agricultural workers for six years.
How Trump Is Helping Tycoons Exploit the Pandemic
The New Yorker print
In April, for instance, the United States Department of Agriculture granted fifteen waivers to poultry plants, including a Mountaire facility in North Carolina, authorizing them to increase the number of birds per minute—or B.P.M.—that workers must process. The waivers enabled companies to accelerate the pace from a hundred and forty B.P.M. to a hundred and seventy-five. Angela Stuesse, an anthropologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who has studied the poultry industry, told me that, in the chicken business, “you make pennies on a pound.” Among the few ways to increase profits are squeezing labor costs and accelerating line speeds, which are set by the U.S.D.A. to accommodate federal inspectors, who are supposed to assess every bird. The regulations have long been a point of contention between poultry-plant owners and unions, because as the line speed increases so do injuries and other stresses on workers’ bodies.
Criminalized Work and the Chicken We Eat
Citizen Chef with Tom Colicchio online
Tom Colicchio talks to Dr. Angela Stuesse (Scratching Out a Living: Latinos, Race, and Work in the Deep South) and investigative reporter Alissa Zhu about the largest single-state immigration enforcement operation in our country's history, and the conditions workers in poultry processing plants often work in.
Undocumented workers at processing plants can’t take sick leave, get jobless benefits
COVID-19 is spreading rapidly though meat processing plants in North Carolina as state health and agriculture officials work to keep production lines running.
After ICE Raids, a Reckoning in Mississippi’s Chicken Country
New York Times print
White women dominated the lines until the 1960s, when African-Americans pressed for their rights. In Canton, African-Americans called for a boycott of the local chicken plant over its refusal to hire black workers, according to Angela Stuesse, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina and author of the 2016 book “Scratching out a Living: Latinos, Race, and Work in the Deep South.” By the end of the 1960s, black workers predominated on the lines. It was an important win for African-Americans looking for an alternative to housework in wealthy white homes, or for those who had seen fieldwork dry up in an increasingly mechanized agricultural sector. “The chicken plant,” Dr. Stuesse quoted a civil rights veteran saying, “replaced the cotton field.” But as American chicken consumption boomed in the 1980s, manufacturers went in search of “cheaper and more exploitable workers,” Dr. Stuesse wrote, chiefly Latin American immigrants.
Trump Administration Prosecuting More Mississippi Workers After ICE Raids
Huff Post online
Most of the migrants facing prosecution after the ICE raid are Guatemalan nationals ― part of an influx of Latin American migrants recruited to Mississippi by the poultry industry itself, according to Angela Stuesse, author of ”Scratching Out a Living: Latinos, Race and Work in the Deep South.” “They were welcomed with open arms by the industry and have been here, in some cases, for 25 years — they’ve laid down roots and are integral parts of poultry communities,” Stuesse told HuffPost. “It just seems mean-spirited to pass a law that criminalizes work in the first place, and then to prosecute them for fraud when we haven’t seen that there’s any accountability at the corporate level.”
Life after an ICE Raid
The division of labor in Morton's chicken industry has been racialized ever since B.C. Rogers opened the first poultry business here in 1932. What began as a hen-and-egg operation grew grew to include a slaughter plant in 1949. According to Angela Stuesse, author of Scratching Out a Living: Latinos, Work and Race in the Deep South, prior to World War II the plants were likely staffed by white men. More white women began to work the lines during the war, but the B.C. Rogers plant remained almost entirely white through the 70s, with Klan in management positions. B.C.’s daughter, Martha Rogers, said she can’t remember when the plant integrated. She thinks maybe it was around 1972, the year her father died. She doesn’t recall any pushback due to integration.
Chicken plants lured them. Feds jailed them. How Mississippi's immigration crisis unfolded
Mississippi Clarion Ledger online
Mississippi small towns transformed with growth of immigrant community From 1990 to 2000, the Latino population increased by more than 1,000 percent in Scott County, which researchers Angela Stuesse and Lauren Helton call the "home of Mississippi's Poultry industry." It again roughly doubled between 2000 and current day, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Undocumented But In Demand: Immigration And Labor In America
Americans want solutions to undocumented immigration, and we want to keep our economy humming along. How do we reconcile these two issues, especially when our economy keeps humming partly because undocumented immigrants work here? To answer these questions, we spoke with Alexia Fernandez Campbell, a reporter covering labor issues at Vox; Angela Stuesse, a professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina...
A History Of Hispanic Immigrants In Mississippi's Poultry Industry
Here & Now, NPR radio
Here & Now's Robin Young talks to cultural anthropologist Angela Stuesse about how poultry workers went from being mostly white women in the 1950s to Hispanic immigrants today.
ICE Raids Hit Poultry Processing Plants That Rely On Latino Immigrant Labor
NPR's Michel Martin speaks with anthropologist Angela Stuesse about the use of immigrant labor in poultry farms in the South. "... People stay in this work because it's one of the few options that they have. The folks that I knew who put down roots in Mississippi - or who I know who've put down roots in Mississippi say that they have stayed in Mississippi, particularly, because it's a tranquil place to live and to raise children. They feel like it's calm compared to maybe more urban spaces that they've been. They've felt largely welcome and have been able to sort of live their lives under the radar, feed their families and hope to get ahead."
Mississippi raids split families and leave children adrift: ‘I just want my mom and dad’
Los Angeles Times print
"Cutting chicken into pieces was dirty work, but it paid the bills and allowed them to buy a modest 1,300-square-foot brick ranch home that they squeezed into with two uncles, an aunt and cousin Sandra. They were not the first Latin American immigrants to move to Morton, founded as a stagecoach town just a few years before the Civil War. In 1994, the poultry plant, which was then locally owned and trying to tamp down union organizing among African American workers, sent recruiters to Miami in search of immigrants who would be more accepting of low pay and poor work conditions. After advertising in Cuban stores and local newspapers, the company sent busloads of immigrants on Greyhound buses and offered them housing in dilapidated trailers, according to Angela Stuesse, author of “Scratching Out a Living: Latinos, Race, and Work in the Deep South.” Gradually, word of mouth attracted waves of immigrants from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Uruguay and Guatemala. Mississippi is now the nation’s fifth-largest chicken-producing state. But the future of the economy is now in question."
Worker shortage concerns loom in immigrant-heavy meatpacking
AP News print
Chicken plants extensively recruited immigrants in the 1990s as union organizing among majority African American workers increased. One Morton, Mississippi, plant advertised in Miami’s Cuban stores and newspapers, busing workers willing to accept lower wages, a tactic replicated across the South, according to University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill anthropologist Angela Stuesse. Initially, it was immigrants with work authorization, but they were replaced by Mexicans and Guatemalans here illegally. Argentinians, Uruguayans and Peruvians followed. By the 2000s, the labor pool was self-sustaining with word-of-mouth. “This is part of the way this industry works, is by having these different communities they can lean into to keep costs down and keep the lines running,”
Meat processing workers push for safer conditions, sick leave during COVID-19 pandemic
NC PolicyWatch print
Angela Stuesse, an associate professor who teaches Anthropology at UNC-Chapel Hill, also spoke a Friday’s press conference. Having studied the industry, she said, it’s always been clear that it depends on the labor of low-wage Black and Latinx workers and has never offered appropriate health care, leave and wages. The pandemic has simply made that reality deadly. “As part of America’s industrial food chain, these companies will do everything they can to keep the lines running, no matter the cost to workers,” Stuesse said. “As long as this industry is permitted, they’ll put profit over people. Many knew about outbreaks for weeks before telling their employees. This industry will not regulate itself.”
Why Are Meat Processing Plants Reopening After Major COVID-19 Outbreaks?
KALW, San Fransisco Local Public Radio radio
On this edition of Your Call, we're getting an update on the COVID crisis in meatpacking plants. At least 31 meat processing plants owned by Smithfield, JBS and Tyson Foods have had coronavirus outbreaks. According to the United Food & Commercial Workers Union, over 6,500 workers have tested positive or been quarantined. At least 22 have died. Why are frontline workers still unprotected? Guests: Dr. Angela Stuesse, cultural anthropologist and professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, author of Scratching Out a Living: Latinos, Race, and Work in the Deep South
What we know about the 5 companies targeted in the ICE raids in Mississippi
The Washington Post print
"... One company, since acquired by Koch Foods, dubbed the campaign the “Hispanic Project,” which resulted in a 1,000 percent increase in Scott County’s Latino population, where two of the raided plants are located, in a decade. Angela Stuesse, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill professor who researched the Hispanic Project, said the undocumented immigrants who have worked at these plants long term stayed because they felt safe from crime and from ICE. 'The last 20 to 30 years has led to a real diversification of where immigrants go to find work,” she said. “It’s increasingly not in the traditional receiving communities in urban areas.'"
After Mississippi ICE raids, job fair draws hopeful workers
AP News print
"But whatever triggered the raid, it could have long-term effects on the labor pool. In some places raids have led immigrants to move away. And if they stay, Stuesse said raids tend to keep immigrants terrified of advocating for better wages and working conditions. “It tells immigrant workers that if they speak up, their worst fears will come true,” she said."
Chicken plants conspired to keep wages low at Southern plants, federal lawsuit alleges
Mississippi TOday print
“The poultry industry is looking to cut labor costs at any possible corner to maximize profit,” said Angela Stuesse, a professor at University of North Carolina and author of “Scratching out a Living: Latinos, Race, and Work in the Deep South.” She added: “Those cuts are always on the backs of the people doing the hard work.” In the mid-1990’s, Mississippi’s poultry plants began actively recruiting immigrant workers — called the “Hispanic Project” — in order to circumvent increased labor organizing in the plants’ mostly African American workforce.
Hispanic project’ seeded dangerous poultry jobs
Jackson Free Press print
Still, it is not easy for poultry plants to retain working U.S. residents, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Anthropologist Angela Stuesse said on Aug. 12. She has studied the history and work culture of American poultry plants, and spent time in Mississippi's poultry plants in the 2000s. #"It's degrading, difficult work," Stuesse said in an interview. "I think the folks who stay in the chicken plants are the people who don't have other options and certainly, mostly undocumented immigrants fall into that category, but not only." #She has written about the history of chicken plants in America in her book, "Scratching Out a Living." In the past, the plants turned to African Americans to provide poultry plant labor. #"African American workers fought to get access to chicken plant labor because it was seen as a step up from the work in the fields they had been doing for 100 years prior, and they got access to the chicken plants in the late '60s and early '70s and started organizing for better wages and working conditions," Stuesse said. #"I think one of the reasons that the industry started looking further afield
Chicken-factory employees in the U.S. illegally work in fear. Their employers, not so much
Chicago Tribune online
Anthropology professor Angela Stuesse from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reported in a recent Washington Post op-ed that the predominance of Latin America-born workers in such plants is a direct result of recruiting efforts begun in the 1990s by poultry companies trying to weaken budding efforts by African American workers to unionize. A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2002 helped seal the deal when it held that workers living here illegally are not entitled to back pay even after being illegally fired for union organizing.
Mississippi’s Latino Community
Latino Media Collective online
Following one of the largest immigration ICE raids in years, the LMC speaks w Angela Stuesse about the recent history of Mississippi’s Latino community and how labor exploitation by the states food-processing industry brought them there. Angela Stuesse is an anthropologist at the University of North Carolina and the author of “Scratching Out A Living: Race & Work In The Deep South.”
As California knows, workplace raids are not the answer
City Watch online
Days after the Aug. 7 immigration raids in which approximately 680 people were arrested in poultry plants across Mississippi, federal court documents were unsealed that publicly revealed the evidence that led a judge to authorize the raids, the largest single-state immigration enforcement action in U.S. history. The documents allege, among other things, that the raided plants were employing workers with electronic ankle monitors; hiring the same individuals multiple times under different identity documents; and outsourcing recruitment and identity verification to third party payroll contractors.
The Recent MS ICE Raids & Big Ag’s Exploitation of Immigrant Workers
Your Call, KAWL, San Fransisco Public Radio radio
On this edition of Your Call, we’ll discuss the recent ICE raids in Mississippi. 680 immigrant workers were arrested across seven poultry processing plants owned by five major corporations, including Koch Foods, one of the largest chicken producers in the US. It was the largest immigration sting in over a decade. Meat processing companies depend on undocumented immigrants for labor, yet they continue to compromise their safety and health protections. What needs to change? Guests: Angela Stuesse, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, author of Scratching Out a Living: Latinos, Race, and Work in the Deep South
A Mississippi church counts its missing after ICE raids: ‘This is a very dark moment
Los Angeles Times print
Over the last few decades, waves of Latino immigrants have moved to Mississippi to fill employers’ demand for cheap labor. Starting in the mid 1990s, recruiters for a chicken processing plant in Morton traveled to South Florida to hire residents of Cuba who had work authorization, according to Angela Stuesse, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina and author of “Scratching Out a Living: Latinos, Race, and Work in the Deep South.” Over the years, those workers were gradually replaced by new workers from Mexico and Guatemala, many of whom lacked paperwork.
In Scratching Out a Living, an engrossing account of life among central Mississippi’s Hispanic poultry workers, Angela Stuesse writes that the first Cuban poultry workers were sometimes mistaken for Choctaw Indians by the area’s white and black residents during the 1990s. Plant owners have said for decades that immigration was the only solution to a persistent labor shortage; viewed another way, immigrants permitted management to maintain the low wages and dangerous conditions that black chicken workers had fought to improve in the ’70s and ’80s. In the 1990s, Stuesse recounts, a local company (whose facilities were later purchased by Tyson Foods) initiated a “Hispanic Project” to bus Hispanic workers from Miami to Mississippi. Cubans were followed by Argentines and Venezuelans. Later, Mexicans and Guatemalans found their way to the area, too. They settled in trailer parks and overcrowded ranch homes on the outskirts of Carthage, Canton, and Forest, sharing bathrooms, bedrooms, and sometimes beds. Nationally, these new arrivals were indispensable to the poultry industry’s immense growth, as Americans went from eating 28 pounds of chicken per person per year in 1960 to more than 90 in 2018. At the same time, tenders, nuggets, wings, and other cuts exploded in popularity, creating demand for skilled factory workers to perform the cuts that Mom once did in the kitchen—hundreds of times an hour. As early as 2000, more than half the country’s chicken workers were immigrants, and poultry was a leading factor in rural diversification from Georgia to Nebraska.
Celso Mendoza pasó las últimas dos décadas de su vida trabajando en la línea de una planta procesadora de pollo en un pueblo rural del sur de EUA. Vivió de manera humilde y fue un hombre honorable; un líder obrero respetado por su comunidad, llamada “Forest”, en el estado de Mississippi. El 2 de mayo de 2020 perdió la vida a consecuencia del COVID-19. Tenía 59 años. En las pasadas semanas, los trabajadores de la industria avícola y de la carne han hecho sonar cada vez más la alarma, ya que las plantas de procesamiento en todo EUA han experimentado brotes de COVID-19. Y ahora que los trabajadores empiezan a fallecer, activistas y defensores advierten que los que trabajan en esta industria corren un riesgo particularmente alto de contraer esta enfermedad.
Celso Mendoza spent the last two decades of his life scratching out a meager living on the processing line at a chicken plant in Forest, Mississippi. Though he lived humbly, he was an honorable man; a worker leader respected by many in his community. On May 2, his life was cut tragically short by COVID-19. He was 59 years old. In recent weeks poultry and meatpacking workers have increasingly sounded the alarm as processing plants across the country have experienced outbreaks of COVID-19. As workers begin to perish, advocates warn that they are at particularly high risk of contracting COVID-19. Packed closer together than the birds they slaughter, amid the constant din of machinery, workers are forced into close range at every turn. Few have access to paid sick leave and many cannot afford to miss work when they feel unwell. These practices present ideal conditions for the coronavirus to infect large numbers of people quickly. And many, like my friend Celso, won’t survive.
This month, as Americans enjoy the holidays with their loved ones, many will roast turkeys and share a special family meal together. Meanwhile, the humans who lives are enmeshed in the slaughter and processing of our nation’s poultry are suffering like never before. Following the summer’s raid on poultry plants in Mississippi—now known to be the largest single-state immigration enforcement action in U.S. history— the families of nearly 700 workers who call Mississippi home are grappling with the effects of detention, deportation, and criminalization. Some parents have been separated from their children for nearly five months now, while others returned home, unemployed and preparing for their imminent deportation.
On Tuesday, in a ceremony dating to the 1940s, the National Turkey Federation will present the U.S. president with a live domestic turkey and, in front of a national audience, one lucky bird — either Bread or Butter — will receive a presidential pardon. The poultry industry has deftly cultivated such publicity opportunities since its inception 75 years ago, designed to portray its treatment of America’s turkeys and chickens as humane. But this conceals many different darker sides to the industry. These include profit-making strategies that rely on the recruitment and control of the most exploitable available labor, a practice that made this once-fledgling industry into the nearly $50 billion powerhouse it is today. The U.S. poultry industry received considerable national news coverage this year when an immigration raid on chicken plants throughout Mississippi resulted in the detention of 680 immigrant workers. Yet while we know that all across the country industrial agriculture runs on the exploitation of low-wage undocumented workers, and though we benefit from rock-bottom prices on boneless, skinless chicken subsidized by their labor, Americans seldom ask how immigrants came to dominate the jobs picking, slaughtering, packing and serving our food.
Days after the Aug. 7 immigration raids in which approximately 680 people were arrested in poultry plants across Mississippi, federal court documents were unsealed that publicly revealed the evidence that led a judge to authorize the raids, the largest single-state immigration enforcement action in U.S. history. The documents allege, among other things, that the raided plants were employing workers with electronic ankle monitors; hiring the same individuals multiple times under different identity documents; and outsourcing recruitment and identity verification to third party payroll contractors. All of these practices are common knowledge among those of us long acquainted with the poultry industry’s employment practices.
"The prominence of Latinos in Mississippi’s chicken plants and communities today was not accidental. It was calculated, strategic and intimately related to deeply rooted structures of labor exploitation in the region. Beginning in the 1990s, Latin American immigrants were recruited to the state by the poultry industry, where they arrived to work in some of the lowest-paid and most dangerous jobs in the country. This week’s raids target deeply rooted workers and families and leave behind a devastated community, while also terrorizing many others across the country."