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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

So, Yeah, About Those Jobs That Americans Won’t Do

Don’t take this as a commentary on my feelings on immigration (either the legal kind or the illegal kind) or my feelings on some kind of guest worker program. Still, I really hate the argument from the unapologetic pro-illegal side that says Americans just won’t do the icky jobs.

Bullshit, I say. Americans will do any job, although they might not always like the work or the pay.

Whatever. The point is this:

The line of applicants hoping to fill jobs vacated by undocumented workers taken away by immigration agents at the Swift & Co. meat-processing plant earlier this week was out the door Thursday.

Among them was Derrick Stegall, who carefully filled out paperwork he hoped would get him an interview and eventually land him a job as a slaughterer. Two of his friends had been taken away by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and he felt compelled to fill their rubber boots.

“Luckily, they had no wives or family they left behind. But it was still sad. They left their apartments filled with all their stuff. I took two dogs one of them had. The other guy had a cat I gave to my sister,” he said.

Greg Bonifacio heard about the job openings on television and brought his passport, his Colorado driver’s license, his Social Security card and even a color photograph of himself as a young Naval officer to prove his military service.

“I don’t want to hassle with any identification problems because of my last name,” said Bonifacio, a 59- year-old Thornton resident of Filipino heritage.

As it turned out, the Colorado Workforce office that was taking applications did not require any identification.

That would come later for those who made it past the interview process.

Bonifacio was hoping to get a job in production or fabrication. So was Nathan Korgan, a former construction worker whose company closed and moved to California.

There is a conversation to be had about the pros and cons of guest worker programs, open immigration, and border security. Like many arguments, though, the whole thing seems to descend into something about “Americans won’t do tough jobs” and some assumption that opposition to illegal immigration is somehow tied into hatred for folks with darker skin.

On the other side, there really does seem to be a contingent with an overwrought fear of the brown hordes coming to destroy our society and a belief that they are completely free-riders in our society. The costs of hosting these “undocumented” aliens isn’t that easy to figure, but the assumption that they don’t do anything to pay their way is simply incorrect.

Every gallon of gas, every purchase at the mall, every contribution of cheap labor, and much more all work to offset the cost of schools, health care, and other social services. I’m not comfortable saying that an illegal immigrant is a necessarily a net positive to our economy (not because the idea is incorrect, but because I don’t feel qualified to make the judgment), but the assertion that they add nothing it wrong.

The debate is too serious to be reduced to petty sniping and lies. So, let’s just kill off the “Americans won’t do the job” myth here and now.

Read more about the job hunters here.

None of which explains why, with Christmas just a few days away, I’ve managed to decorate the tree, but I haven’t sent out cards, finished my shopping, wrapped a single present, or found an opportunity to sing “O, Holy Night” at the top of my lungs to irritate and/or ammuse my co-workers. Their loss.

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