Working Wounded Blog: Immigrants at Work

The traffic jams. The businesses shuttered for the day. Those are just a few of the images from Monday's "Day Without Immigrants."

More than a million reportedly participated in immigration rallies nationwide, and many others were disappointed that employees and co-workers chose to skip work for the day. Regardless of your opinion, it was a day when one of the most divisive issues in America really hit home in the workplace.

But I'd like to raise a few topics that I don't think got discussed nearly enough.

First, the economy has changed quite a bit over the decades.

Here is a question: What was the year that for the first time service workers and white collar workers outnumbered blue collar workers? 2001? 1990? OK, we'll go out on a limb here -- 1985?

Nope. The first time that blue collar workers were outnumbered in the economy was 1956 (from "Revolutionary Wealth" by Alvin and Heidi Toffler). I know that was a really long time ago, because that is the year I was born.

So much of the complaining about the loss of jobs to immigrants overlooks one important fact -- the economy has changed dramatically.

With more than 12 million illegal immigrants assumed to be working in the United States, you would think that there would be a huge backlash against them. Think again. According to The New York Times, only 30 percent of Americans want tougher laws against illegal immigrants.

But we've all got to stop pining over the lost manufacturing jobs and deal with the economy that we have, not the one we wish we had. And immigrants play a huge role in keeping our current economy moving forward.

The second point: you'd be in the streets too.

If you think about it, this issue should be personal to everyone.

Sam, Lena, Joseph and Fay. Those names might not jump off the screen at you, but they have a lot of meaning for me. They're my grandparents.

They were born in Hungry, Russia and Germany before they took that long trip to America. Each one has their own precarious story of their journey out of Europe. And it wasn't necessarily a walk in the park once they got here. Each had to take his or her place at the bottom, mostly figuratively, but sometimes literally -- living in the ghettos, working for the bare minimum and having to fight for a place at the table.

And they were all lucky enough during their lifetimes to achieve their little piece of the American dream -- owning a home, becoming leaders in their communities, being able to take a vacation. But to a person, all would probably say that the point at which they'd realized they'd made it was when their kids didn't have to start at the bottom -- and this group of elementary school dropouts saw their kids graduate from college and even from graduate school.

Now it's your turn. How far back do you need to go to find people who fled their homelands to come to America? One generation, two, three?

Third, drawbridges don't work.

In a land of immigrants, it's remarkable to hear people screaming to pull the drawbridge up, now that they've landed in the land of opportunity. It's remarkable that people want to kick out all illegal immigrants currently working in the country, or that so many complain about all the resources these immigrants are using.

After Monday's demonstrations, I think it is important to remember something that my grandparents all knew by heart: "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp! Cries she with silent lips. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door." The poet Emma Lazarus wrote these words that we all associate with the Statue of Liberty.

I think that this is the classic case of people who live in glass houses throwing stones. We are all the descendents of immigrants. Let's all seek to honor our relatives by appreciating the latest batch of people who struggled to come here so that they could create a better life for their families.

Fourth, this debate isn't going to end any time soon.

Given the turbulence of the economy, there will always be people who try to blame our problems on people who aren't in a position to fight back. So get prepared to hear this debate over and over again in the coming years.


"Democrats are a party of no ideas. Republicans are a party of bad ideas." -- Lewis Black


"Leadership and the New Science" by Margaret Wheatley (Berrett Koehler, 1999)

"In the presence of so much information, people often feel temporarily powerless and disheartened. They don't know how to make sense of it, and they are in that terribly uncomfortable state of feeling confused. But as information continues to proliferate and confusion grows, there comes a memorable time (usually during the last quarter of the event) when the grope self-organizes, growing all that information into new, potent visions of the future. Rather than basing agreements on the lowest common denominator, the whole system that is present at the conference has self-organized into a new creation, a unified body that sets new and challenging directions for itself."

Blog Ballot Results

Here are the results from a recent Working Wounded Blog/ online ballot:

Which group do you run into the most at work?

   Pathological Liars, 8.8 percent

   The Whole Truth and Nothing But, 10.2 percent

   Self-Deceivers, 32.3 percent

   Rounding Errors, 48.5 percent

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, an internationally syndicated columnist, popular speaker, and a recent addition to the community of bloggers. He welcomes your comments at

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.