A refugee’s American dream ended with a police shooting on the packing line

Chiewelthap Mariar was about three years old when his family, Christians from South Sudan, fled the aggression of the Muslim-led government in the north. His mother ended up working at a pork processing plant, run by Seaboard Foods, in Guymon, Oklahoma. Late last year, Chiewelthap, now 26, took a job there, too, after returning home to reset his life after a few false starts.

As Ted Genoways writes in FERN’s latest story, published with The New Republic, Chiewelthap was shot and killed at the plant on Jan. 9 by a Guymon police officer, apparently during a dispute with his managers over his work assignment.

The killing happened at a plant with a history of worker safety violations — including failing to comply with OSHA Covid protocols — and that workers described as a “brutal place to work.”

Chiewelthap and his mother represent the new default workforce for U.S. meatpacking operations. Over the last 15 years, as Genoways explains, as the nation cracked down on illegal immigration, the packers “turned to a new population that they hoped would be as compliant as undocumented workers, but with legal work status: political refugees.”