Moorefield, a small town in West Virginia’s Potomac Highlands, is known as the “Poultry Capital” due to its largest employer, Pilgrim’s Pride. For thousands of immigrant workers, the promise of employment at this poultry plant has been both a lifeline and a source of profound hardship. These workers face significant challenges, including finding affordable housing, paying rent, and navigating complex immigration and benefits systems.

Tatiana’s Story: A Harrowing Journey

In 2020, Tatiana faced a heart-wrenching decision: stay in Honduras, a country plagued by poverty, or take a risky journey to the United States. A Honduran man living in Moorefield offered her a lifeline, promising work for undocumented immigrants and financial support for her and her child. Tatiana chose to make the arduous 15-day trip to Moorefield, hoping to secure a better future for her children.

Shortly after arriving, Tatiana began working on the production lines at Pilgrim’s Pride’s chicken factory. Despite the plant’s desperate need for workers, Tatiana’s situation soon turned dire. The man who had helped her became violent, forcing her and her daughter into homelessness. “My daughter would cry a lot,” Tatiana recalls. “She questioned why we came to the United States if she was happy in Honduras.”

Systemic Challenges for Immigrant Workers

For three decades, immigrants like Tatiana have come to Hardy County to work for Pilgrim’s Pride. The company benefits from their labor, often listing new immigration legislation or enforcement as potential threats to its business operations. However, the support system for these workers is severely lacking.

Many newcomers arrive with high hopes, only to find limited access to affordable housing, adequate interpretation services, and financial assistance. Moises Saravia, an immigrant from El Salvador and a pastor of a Spanish-speaking church, notes, “Every year, it’s more problems, more problems.”

Pilgrim’s Contributions and Local Realities

Pilgrim’s Pride has made several charitable contributions to Moorefield, including nearly $1 million for local projects like a daycare facility, an indoor recreation center, and an apartment complex near the factory. Despite these investments, the company’s support often falls short. Pilgrim’s charges workers high rents, often exceeding federal fair market rates, exacerbating the housing crisis for its employees.

Local government programs and nonprofits have tried to bridge the gap, but they face significant challenges. Limited funds and the need to communicate with people who speak over a dozen languages hinder their effectiveness. “There’s a lot of things with the immigrant community that we don’t have a real good handle on,” admits David Workman, Hardy County Commission president.

Struggles Beyond the Factory

Former and current immigrant workers frequently go without benefits they qualify for or medical treatment they need. Tatiana, once a government worker in Honduras, found herself homeless and struggling to navigate the complexities of U.S. aid systems. “I honestly don’t know what I can apply for,” she says.

Katy Lewis, a senior attorney with Mountain State Justice, highlights the difficulty immigrants face in understanding U.S. immigration laws and available aid. “Our immigration system is so complicated,” she explains. Erika Perez, a permanent resident from Peru, faced similar challenges, struggling for months to renew her food assistance due to language barriers.

Community Efforts and Persistent Gaps

Saravia, the Salvadorian pastor, witnesses these struggles daily among his congregation. He took on additional responsibilities, from finding funding for a food bank to driving members to distant appointments. This schedule took a toll on his health, ultimately forcing him to leave his job at Pilgrim’s Pride.

The turnover at the factory is high, with about 500 employees quitting or being fired in the first half of 2023. This instability leaves many immigrants struggling to find alternative employment, as most local jobs require English proficiency.

The Need for Greater Support

Moorefield’s community, including the Hardy County School District and local nonprofits, strives to support immigrant families. Pilgrim’s Pride contributes to some initiatives, but the need far outweighs the help provided. For instance, the district employs only four English learner teachers for a growing population of immigrant students.

Organizations like the Eastern Regional Family Resource Network also struggle to meet basic needs with limited budgets. Joanna Kuhn, the network’s director, suggests that consistent monthly donations from Pilgrim’s could significantly improve their ability to support immigrant families.

A Call for Fairness and Equality

Anthropology professor Angela Stuesse underscores the broader issue: companies profiting from immigrant labor without adequately supporting their well-being. “The problem isn’t having these new neighbors,” she says. “It’s the fact that somebody is profiting off of this movement of labor and humans and isn’t contributing what they should be to the well-being of the community.”

Conclusion: The American Dream Questioned

Tatiana continues to believe that staying in the U.S. is the best way to provide for her children, despite the hardships. She sends money to her family in Honduras whenever she can, driven by the hope of a better future for her children. Yet, the challenges she faces in Moorefield make her question the existence of the American Dream.

“You have to separate yourself from those who love you for a plate of food,” she says, reflecting on her journey and the sacrifices she’s made. Her story, like many others, highlights the urgent need for comprehensive support for immigrant workers in Moorefield and beyond.

Read: Pilgrim’s Pride Lawsuit


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