The surge in covid cases over the last month has only been one of the many issues we are facing in the U.S. Before Omicron came and wreaked havoc on our plans to return “back to normal”, we started seeing many individuals resigning from their jobs. “The Great Resignation,” as the media calls it, has made headlines as the supposed cause of product shortages, longer wait times and more. While there are many reasons why we see Americans leaving their jobs, the media and the country are wondering what to do to address this problem. The answer according to them? Immigrants.
The U.S. has had a long history of turning towards foreign born workers when it finds itself in need of a large quantity of laborers. From the Bracero program in 1940’s to even the beginning of the nation when it forcibly enslaved Black people in order to generate an economy in the new colonies. The U.S. has continued to turn towards immigrants to fill vacant positions within the workforce. Some might say this is a necessary trade off; immigrants come to America seeking better opportunities (jobs, educations, etc.) and in return, the U.S. benefits economically. While most immigrants may in fact receive higher wages once in the U.S., this does not change the fact that the U.S. preys on these individuals for a very specific reason: they are “easy” to get rid of once you don’t need them.
Immigrant workers who may not have legal status in the country search for any job in hopes to make ends meet or to send money back home. Many immigrants come to the U.S. because of job shortages or low economic prosperity in their own home country and as a result, take what they can get. In the context of the U.S.’s segmented labor market, immigrants make up the secondary workforce, specifically undocumented immigrants. Secondary labor positions vary from agricultural work, janitorial work, or service work. Positions in the secondary labor market are characterized by little pay, high turnover rates, little to no opportunities to move up, and are for the most part, more labor intensive. These are the jobs our society has a skewed mentality about. We believe that these jobs are available for teenagers, people who didn’t receive a higher education or are for those who simply don’t want more for themselves. While these sentiments are far from correct, they also contribute to a damaging ideology that leaves workers in the secondary labor market at the mercy of the corporations they work for.
Immigrants, specifically undocumented immigrants, are oblivious to the sentiments and ranking that Americans hold regarding the types of jobs they work. They do not see them as secondary or unskilled labor but rather as a means of producing money they may not have had back home. Given that the U.S. dollar usually holds more value over currency used in countries that immigrants come from, these lower paying jobs can pay them more than they made back home. But companies know all of this, and they use this information to prey on undocumented and documented immigrants. To corporation’s, immigrant labor is a cheaper and much more appealing way to go because most will either return to their home country or they’ll take the lower pay and hazardous working conditions with no benefits because there aren’t many other opportunities for them in America.
As a result, the segmented labor market in America relies on and needs immigrant workers. The pandemic and xenophobic sentiment that has risen over the last years have led to less immigration into the U.S. and with many American workers leaving their job or leaving their positions vacant because of COVID-19 related deaths or illnesses, the effects of this are all leading media outlets to point to immigrants as a solution. Just a month ago, many of these same media outlets published articles painting immigration activists as “too demanding” in their efforts to get the Biden administration to hold true to its promise of immigration reform. The same media outlets who have continuously painted immigrants as ‘illegals’ and have upheld xenophobic sentiments are now ones pointing politicians and economists to immigrants as a solution to the country’s worker shortage.
Now, these media outlets are painting immigrants as big contributors to the U.S. and its economy. Portraying them as “essential to our economy” and urging President Biden to “warm up” to immigration. The worst part is most these articles are careful about being explicit to only supporting “legal immigration.” The irony with this statement is that most of the jobs they mention that are struggling to find workers are primarily made-up of immigrants in general, undocumented included. The same article also mentions the backlog DHS is experiencing with the number of pending applications and yet there is no mention about pushing for easier application process, less strict immigration requirements or at the bare minimum, more funding for DHS to hire more employees to review applications. So how exactly do they expect immigrants to migrate to the U.S. “legally” if they don’t exactly streamline the process?
The rhetoric being used to talk about immigrants is a dangerous one. The media in this country has continuously aided xenophobic sentiments through their reporting and its effects are very apparent. Anti-immigrant rhetoric is not uncommon in almost every public place. Despite most of the country supporting immigration reform, we still see anti-immigrant talk everywhere. This is only contributing to the criminalization and dehumanization of immigrants. Media outlets publishing articles referring to immigrants as important to the U.S. solely for their labor contributions are no better than people being blatantly xenophobic towards people in public or private. Immigrants are essential to our country not just for their labor or the economic benefits they bring, but because they are people who also embody the values this country upholds. We must ignore and refuse media that portrays immigrants as disposable human beings, otherwise we are only doing more harm than good.