Do you want to take an immigrant's job?

Hannah Selinger - Raw Story Columnist
Published: Wednesday April 5, 2006

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I work in an industry where the worst jobs--and I mean the worst jobs--are relegated to people who barely speak English. Whether these non-English-speakers are or are not legal immigrants is rarely, if ever, discussed. In the restaurant industry, it is taken for granted that most of the back-of-the-house, along with a healthy sampling from the front-of-the-house, consists of paperless immigrants.

Recently, immigration has become the most fashionable Republican platform, and although the issue has reared its ugly head before, this time the president seems intent on making it legislative reality. He and his right-wing friends want to criminalize the already criminal, forcing deportation on the already impoverished.

Certainly there are viable arguments for ending illegal immigration. Flag-waving Americans will tell you that there are not enough jobs to go around, that hard-working natural-born citizens have enough problems without competing for meager means. I don't know a lot of flag-waving Americans who would joyfully wash garbage off other people's plates, or who would spend nights shuffling trash from kitchen to dumpster, but perhaps that's fodder for another column. And anyway, according to recent studies, the "they're taking our jobs" claim simply isn't true. "Even the least-skilled Americans benefit from the presence of a large pool of immigrant workers," the New York Times' John M. Broder reported on Sunday. "[T]he 11 million illegal immigrants are consumers, too, creating demands for goods and services and the jobs they produce." Broder cited as sources both Jared Bernstein, of the Economic Policy Institute, as well as Steven A. Camarota, of the Center for Immigration Studies (which does not, by the way, advocate illegal immigration).

Beyond the remedial, playground claim that American jobs are being taken by non-Americans, there are other, better reasons for ending illegal immigration. Much of the time, illegal immigrants are treated worse and paid less than American citizens because there is no watch group to protect the workplace interest of people who aren't supposed to be here in the first place. Unspeakably low wages and nonexistent healthcare benefit employers, not people who came to this country to establish better lives for themselves.

Last week, on a busy Saturday night, a porter at my restaurant picked up a bag of garbage that happened to contain in it one very sharp piece of a Bordeaux glass. The shard cut the porter's arm so deeply that it appeared to have severed muscle and tendons. He was bleeding profusely and in need of immediate medical attention. "We need to send you to a hospital," my sous-chef said to him. "Can we even do that? Do you have your papers?" The porter was taken to the hospital regardless, but who knows what consequences one minor injury will provoke? This is a first-world country, after all, that acts, at times, like a third-world one, eschewing knowledge in favor of faith. For all our medical advancement, for all our literacy and worldliness, we still may be unable to help one porter who has mistakenly cut his arm. And this is only one instance in a probable million.

Guaranteed most Americans wouldn't wish to trade places, even if it meant an opportunity to make a living. "It is asserted both as fact and as argument," Broder writes, that, "the United States needs a constant flow of immigrants to perform jobs that Americans would not stoop to do." Illegal immigrants make up twelve percent of the food preparation industry, twenty-four percent of the farming/fishing/forestry industry, seventeen percent of the cleaning industry, and 9 percent of the manufacturing industry. It is hard to blame people who work hard for practically nothing, and who do the behind-the-scenes work that allows us to enjoy life here in the United States.

Not to mention the fact that our country was built on the possibilities extended by immigration. Since the arrival of the Mayflower, the United States has been a country infiltrated by other peoples from other countries who have informed the vast and difficult-to-categorize American cultural landscape. To restrict and criminalize immigration would be to deny how powerfully it has impacted not only our lives, but also our history books.

Now we have on our hands 11 million people facing eviction, even though few of us can claim to be pureblooded Americans--and by pureblooded I mean being generationally from this country, which excludes practically everyone except those of us who count among our direct relatives the Native American population. To agree with the president, to force these people from an already uncertain future, is not only a humanitarian's nightmare, but it is also inherently un-American. Which is, perhaps, what we should remember when we complain about open borders and $2.50/hr dishwashing jobs that should remain solely available to the United States' so-called naturally born.