Fear Thy Neighbour: Immigrant Workers and America

Feb 15 2009 Published by under Featured News

It 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.

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