Stephen Colbert Seeking to Prove Americans Won't Take Jobs Held by Illegals

Opponents of illegal immigration insist that employers want cheap labor. But what if all employers really want is available and reliable labor? That means illegal immigrants.

Every month, I hear from at least a dozen employers -- construction site supervisors, farmers and ranchers, restaurant owners and managers, etc. -- who tell me that they couldn’t survive without illegal immigrant workers. It’s not because, as some on the right suggest, these employers would have to pay more if Americans did those jobs. It’s because homegrown workers just aren’t going to show up and take those jobs, no matter what the jobs pay.

To prove it, the United Farm Workers -- with the help of comedian Stephen Colbert -- are inviting unemployed Americans, the very people who you’d think would be most eager to do even distasteful work for a paycheck, to take jobs away from farm workers. The unemployed are urged to apply for the thousands of agricultural jobs being posted with state agencies as harvest season begins.

The offer is also open to any anti-immigrant Washington pundits who’d like to get closer the subject matter on which they so freely opine. Applicants can fill out an online form and sign up for training and job placement at www.takeourjobs.org.

Not everybody at once. Don’t push. Plenty of opportunity for everyone.

To draw attention to the effort, and push for comprehensive immigration reform, Comedy Central's The Colbert Report featured the "Take Our Jobs" campaign on the July 8 episode.

As someone who grew up in farm country, and who spent his first summer home from college in the Ivy League lugging 30 pound boxes of peaches and plums in a packinghouse, I love the idea.

A few years ago, I saw a strawberry farmer interviewed on CNN. He said that, in 30 years of growing strawberries near Oxnard, CA, a native-born American had never approached him and asked for a job picking strawberries. Not once.

Oh, there will always be those who claim to be willing to pick peaches for $50 per hour, or tar roofs for $500 a day. In fact, I once got a call from a reader who insisted that he would gladly go pick lettuce in California’s Salinas Valley --  for $1,000 per week.

Let’s stay in the real world, folks. Even if these people are sincere about being willing to do low-skilled work for high wages, they’re not thinking about making it a career. They might do this kind of job for a day or two and cash in. But they’d quit after that.

That’s not theory. That’s fact. Look at what happened in meat packing plants in the Midwest, a few years ago, after ICE agents raided the premises and hauled off hundreds of illegal immigrants. Employers were forced to offer slightly higher wages to hire replacement workers and, sure enough, some U.S. citizens did show up to take those jobs. Three weeks later, most of them had quit.

You know why? For the same reason native-born workers hadn’t taken those jobs at lower wages. They’re crappy jobs.

There are other crappy jobs out there that are done by illegal immigrants. Milking cows. Cleaning the windows on skyscrapers. Tarring roofs, especially in the summer. Sorting fruits, vegetables, and nuts in a packinghouse. Cleaning horse stalls. Don’t expect many of those jobs to be done by Americans, especially young Americans.

A couple of years ago, I made this argument to an audience of white liberals. I know they were liberals because, at one point, someone suggested opening the U.S.-Mexico border, and many of the others in the room nodded or applauded.

I told them: “It's worth mentioning that not only do illegal immigrants do jobs that Americans won't do, but many of the jobs they're doing were once done by young people in their teens and 20s -- your sons and daughters -- who, as a generation, have shown themselves to have a terrible work ethic.”

My point was that besides better immigration laws and better enforcement, it’s time to be honest about the fact that we also need better parenting -- the sort that produces young people who know how to work and aren't afraid to break a sweat. Then employers can hire those young Americans to do the hard and dirty jobs, and they won’t have to hire illegal immigrants.

The crowd was not pleased. In discussing why the United States has a problem with illegal immigration, they had no problem heaping criticism on the federal government, Mexico, immigration laws, or employers. But they weren’t about to take their share.

Any more than their kids are about to take jobs away from illegal immigrants.