Fear Thy Neighbour: Immigrant Workers and America

ImageIt crept up on TV a few days ago whilst I – now part of the great unwashed unemployed masses – was innocently watching CNN.

Now here in Canada a lot of special interest US commercials get cut out, usually by the local cable monopoly to air their latest greatest HD cable offers. Occasionally, some make it through, and one that did make it through recently sent a series of “!!!!” cascading through my mind.

Times are tough. One need just open a newspaper or look at the headlines and seemingly endless foreboding tales come flooding out: thousands of jobs cut, government bailouts streaking into the trillions, economy to get worse before it gets better, and so on.

Workers across the world, not just America, are beginning to feel the pinch. My own native Canada just announced that the projected budget deficit for the next two years would be C$64 billion, with job creating initiatives to be part of our own “stimulus package.”

Global anxiety is rising. People of all political stripes are beginning to be mistrustful – even more so – of government, and of corporations. Mistrust of the former is rampant because of the enormous spending which is occurring (the largest example being the US$787 billion bill passed by the US Congress). Corporate mistrust is skyrocketing as well, as firms that are being bailed out have been reported to be using said bail out cash for corporate junkets abroad, or for continued use of perks such as executive jets.

Perhaps more dangerous than any of this is the mistrust and anxiety which is beginning to appear against immigrants, and that is what crept onto the TV screen.

A group which is advocating “putting American workers first,” the Coalition for the Future American Worker, released the ad which showed two poor Americans, recently laid off, looking forlornly at each other in an elevator as they hold their small boxes, filled with goods from their cubicles. And, because all too often anti-immigrant sentiment is frequently framed as a Caucasian issue, they ensured that one of the persons in the elevator scene was African American, and a female at that. Very slick.

The piano music is sad, the voice over, sympathetic, lamenting how many immigrants are still being shipped in: “Yet with millions jobless, our government is STILL bringing in a million and a half FOREIGN workers a year to TAKE AMERICAN JOBS. Could YOUR job be next?” (Emphasis added.)

Fear mongering is obviously a key component of this group’s strategy, by instilling fear and distaste for foreigners.

This ad begs many questions: how can one even know who an immigrant is? Merely by their accent? Perhaps by the colour of their skin?

Is it only acceptable to grant access to immigrant workers during good economic periods, but when economic times head south, should they be forbidden from entering the United States?

It would seem that the ad is particularly against these diabolical immigrants stealing good paying, technically skilled jobs from Americans (e.g. in high tech, construction, the auto industry, engineering, all areas that the commercial mentions).

This also begs yet another question: should these same skilled immigrants be consigned to tomato picking and cab driving, or other jobs most American don’t seem to want to do, so long as they aren’t taking the good paying jobs?

History has taught that when the economy suffers, scapegoating begins, and people begin to look for people to blame for their woes. Immigrants are an easy target because it blames outwardly, instead of inwardly. Perhaps the US should examine their education results, for a start. America has long fallen short behind other industrialized nations in terms of educational standards when tested, coming 24th out of 29 nations in the 2006 Programme for International Student Assessment.

Immigration is a complex and delicate issue, as street protests by immigrants over the past few years, and pundits such as Lou Dobbs can all attest to, but one basic fact has been banished to the background of any immigration debate: America was founded by immigrants and by a foreign nation called the British, making all current citizens – lest they be of Native extract – the product of immigrants. This has obviously been forgotten and conveniently ignored.

Back to the point at hand.

Clearly, jobs certainly need to be protected and created, but blaming one large group of individuals is not a solution: it only exacerbates social tensions and catalyzes fear and loathing.

Need more proof? I point you to 1930s Germany, when a group called the National Socialists began to blame a group called Jews for many of their societal ills.

And, in one more masterstroke of irony, I noticed just today, Sunday, February 15, that a story on the BBC reported that the US army now wants more immigrants to enlist, and will even accept those with temporary US visas for the first time since the war in Vietnam.

It’s okay for you to die for the United States, but to get a computer engineering job due to your own talent and expertise? God forbid.

3 Replies to “Fear Thy Neighbour: Immigrant Workers and America”

  1. Matthew from Canada is falling into the usual anti-immigration diatribe against the US. What he doesn’t understand is that this is a long term attack on the Western standard of living by companies both domestic and international.Is it not happening in Canada? The motivation is greed. I’m old enough to remember when the garment industry moved , first from the Northeast, then South and finally to China and other low wage Asian countries. The same thing happened to the electronics industry. Look at the country of manufacture for most of the so-called “American” companies and your will see “Made in China” or “Made in Indonesia”. What happened to NAFTA. It was supposed to build trade between the USA,Canada and Mexico. It woked for a few months until the Mexicans wanted better wages. Then the companies -Nike, GE, Maytag-to name three, moved to even lower wage countires.This is not a uniquely American problem;it is happening in Europe and Japan.
    What Matthew does not understand is that throughout our immigrant history the United States welcomed immigrants because there was more work than laborers. I’m not saying that they were treated fairly but they had the opportunity to prosper. The USA was a manufacturing giant, building railroads,ships, planes, cars, factories of every kind. Workers were needed. Well, we don’t need them anymore. The mid-west is a rust belt. Jobs are in short supply
    As far as this being some kind of no-nothing or racist reaction, let me remind Matthew that Jews lived in Germany for many years. It was the influx of Polish and Russian Jews escaping Bolshevic pograms in the 1920’s that overwhelmed a country that was suffering from terrible inflation and unemployment. Similar to what is happening today? Only on the surface because today we have companies deliberately bringing in low wage workers and replacing American workers. These people are not escaping from pograms but are lured here with promises of better wages than what they can get at home.
    They are not better educated. American schools are just fine. Our problem is we attempt to educate everyone even the mentally handicapped and that brings our “scores” down when compared to other countires who do not educate or include these children in their tallies.
    African-Americans can be especially bitter. Just as they were finally making progress in industry and commerce along comes the workers imported to replace them, especially in the building trades.
    Matthew sacastically asks “should these same skilled immigrants be consigned to tomato picking and cab driving, or other jobs most American don’t seem to want to do, so long as they aren’t taking the good paying jobs?” What about the Americans that have been replaced? What jobs are left for them?
    Finally, Matthew does not understand the US military or the connection to citizenship.. Thoughout its history the military was a path to shorten the waiting time for citizenship.During the Civil War and the horrific Indian Wars many of the soldiers were Irish immigrants. Many German immigrants signed up during WWII and were assigned as translators or to the Pacific.
    So, Matthew, I recommend that you broaden your information sources, get off your high horse and pray that Canadian companies do not likewise strip your country bare of decent jobs.

  2. Thank you for your comments Gail, I appreciate all feedback.

    I think we’re on different pages here.

    What Gail is doing is attacking free trade, which is not what I’m discussing in this article per se, I’m attacking the fear mongering overtones in the ad.

    Gail claims that people don’t want immigrants when there are no jobs to be had. I submit that you just can’t turn off the taps of immigration just to suit the present economic situation; that is tantamount to playing with people’s lives. It really is an “us versus them” mentality, instead of considering all people victims when economic times are bad, people would rather others suffer than themselves. Survival of the fittest indeed.

    Matthew knows, thank you, that Jews lived in Germany for many years prior to the Nazi persecution. I only used it as an example of scapegoating, nothing more, I was not going into any other deeper implications.

    I apologize if I seem to be on a high horse, because nothing is farther from the truth. I merely objected to this ad because it began the scapegoating of immigrants during this downturn, something which does not happen when times are good.

  3. “I submit that you just can’t turn off the taps of immigration just to suit the present economic situation; that is tantamount to playing with people’s lives.” Yes, you can, and no, it isn’t. The United States simply needs to stop granting as many work visas and Green Cards during the downturn. The U.S. in 2008 granted over 1.5 million people the right to enter into and work in the United States.

    It isn’t playing with people’s lives because unless there is a famine, genocide, or similar situation, nobody has a right to enter the United States. So people who were supposed to come to the USA in 2009 will come in 2010 when the economy has improved. The economy does not have the jobs right now and we need what jobs there are for ourselves. Some people argue that immigrants start businesses and create jobs. Well, unless a person comes here with $$ ready to go, it takes years before a person gets settled in the United States enough to start a business. So immigrants coming in 2009 are unlikely to start businesses quickly enough to get us out of this economic mess.

    It simply isn’t scapegoating. All the ad is saying is that it makes no sense to keep bringing in workers during a sharp recession.

    Here is my blog on the subject:


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