Opinion

Refugees Are Not Our Exploitable Work Force

Stop Separating Immigrant Families Press Conference and Rally Chicago Illinois
Stop Separating Immigrant Families Press Conference and Rally Chicago Illinois Photo by Charles Edward Miller via Flickr
There are two kinds of crises down at the southern border depending on who you listen to. According to the many Republican fundraising emails I get, the biggest problems is that thousands of people are “invading” the country, bringing poverty, disease, and crime. For those of us who have a soul, the crisis is that families of Haitian refugees have been living under a bridge with little access to basic needs and at the mercy of a disjointed and inconsistent immigration policy from the Biden Administration.

Liberals tend toward the latter, but it’s also producing a very disturbing mindset that needs to be stomped out. There’s this idea on the left that we should welcome Haitian and Afghan refugees not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because America needs workers. I picked this sentiment up on a post from Wil Wheaton’s Facebook page, and while it wasn’t a majority of responses from left-leaning people, it wasn’t rare either.
Let’s be clear: America is not having a labor shortage just because your favorite McDonald’s sometimes closes early due of a lack of staff. What we are seeing is something Washington Post reporter Heather Long called “a great reassessment going on in the U.S. economy.” The pandemic has changed the way many Americans think about work. The shortages during the early plague years really drove home who was an essential part of the economy and who was not, and it’s spurred a new round of demands for better pay and working conditions.

In other cases, the lull in the economy helped some Americans realize that they actually could leave full-time employment and pursue their dreams. That’s what happened to Houston-based singer-songwriter Tim Qualls. He found that by cutting back his lifestyle, he could just be a musician. The same is true for thousands who went back to school, stayed home to raise their kids, or focused on their passions.

This phenomenon has caused quite the panic in the hearts of the ultra-capitalists, both conservative and liberal. America runs very much on having a servant class that is beholden to low-paying work in order to survive. It’s how many cherished hierarchies are maintained. Conservatives treat these people with contempt, liberals offer them pity, but the end result is the cementing of a hard strata of underclass.


The people who want Haitian and Afghan refugees to fill the supposed labor shortage in America aren’t picturing them taking the places of professional class laborers lost to COVID, and you can tell that by the number of responses obsessed with all the delicious “foreign” food they’re going to cook us. Americans see them working counters and gas stations, grateful for the work and a chance to be eaten by the American machine. Some will rise to success (meaning they’ll own their own business where they underpay employees), but most will be stuck in the same trap so many of our residents have recently found a way out of.
That’s not a thing that we should stand for. For one, flooding the “unskilled” job market with poor desperate people who don’t have a choice is just going to perpetuate the exploitation of all workers that goes on now. It might make the problem something fewer “natural born” Americans have to deal with, but long term it will hurt us all. For hundreds of years, the country codified human slavery to the misery and torment of millions of Black Americans, but the process also pulled down wages for the poor who had to sell themselves very cheap to compete with a free labor force. That process continued long after slavery was abolished. Whether we’re talking prisoners being forced to work industries or migrant workers paid pittances under the table, the result is the same: a permanent underclass creates no incentive for a general betterment of labor conditions.

We should help refugees for the simple fact that it’s what a good people would do and because the troubles of their nations are often directly our fault. America has been supporting coups in Haiti that ruined their country for decades, our penchant for toppling governments in South America to prevent the spread of communism and promote business interests is well established, and no one should need to explain why the current troubles in Afghanistan are largely our fault. These are places we broke.

The moral thing would be to help those whose lives we ruined. That doesn’t include automatically shunting them into service worker jobs so that we can maintain an unfair status quo on the backs of refugees. Doing that would be inhumane and detrimental to the strides workers in America have made to better their position. It’s exploitation, plain and simple, and it’s not going to make anyone’s lives better except maybe the folks who want to yell at someone when their latte is taking too long.
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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner