This is an ethical issue that immigrants face when entering the labor market. Apart from being an immigrant in general, some racial issues also come into play in the labor market. These issues became heightened in the workplace in the US, particularly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Integration into the labor market as an immigrant became even more complex and challenging for minorities especially those of Arab and Muslim origin or religion.
Dealing with the complexities of being an immigrant is a very difficult task in every country. Immigrants constantly face being discriminated against because of the color of their skin, the sound of their voice or simply because of the way they look and their beliefs. Immigrants, including those who are well educated, are often blamed and persecuted for the ills in society such as high unemployment rates, crime and other illegal activities, overcrowding of schools, disease and unwanted changes in the host country’s culture due to the beliefs of this “unwelcomed” group of people. Local people fear that immigrants will not assimilate to “their way of life.” Even in today’s thrust towards diversity in the workplace and so forth, many people are still insensitive even towards legal immigrants, an issue that leads to harassment and discrimination.
Every country has different problems and challenges relating to immigration issues. We therefore should be aware of different situations in different countries. Religion, culture, color of skin and language are some fundamental factors that influence the majority or local people’s perception of immigration. For example, a Muslim immigrant from Africa might be welcomed in Turkey and a British citizen might be welcomed in the US. A Turkish-speaking US citizen may not be discriminated against in the street and in the workplace in Turkey. Thus, being able to adopt the culture and language will certainly lower the level of discrimination against immigrants.
The significance and value of human rights and dignity is mentioned in the Holy Quran, and the language is clear. “There is no compulsion in religion; Truth stands out clear from error,” (2:256). The rights of both Muslims and non-Muslims alike are guaranteed in theory and in practice as the Quran also states: “O you who believe! Be ever steadfast in your devotion to God, bearing witness to the truth in all equity; and never let the hatred of others lead you into the sin of deviating from justice. Be just: This is the closest to being conscious of God,” (5:81). For this reason, generally speaking, discrimination against immigrants is expected to be lower in religious societies than in secular communities.
Looking at the US
There was an open immigration policy up until 1924 in America until the National Origins Act came into effect. Later in the 1930s with the advent of opinion polling, immigration policy analysis was carried out by collecting insight from the public on the issue. These factors encouraged a heated debate on immigration policy, which was further intensified by George W. Bush’s immigration proposal. Moreover, the 9/11 terrorist attacks left the country in a state of paranoia and fear that strengthened the views in favor of having closed borders. It also led to the perpetuation of anti-immigrant sentiments among local people especially by the old stock Americans. Further still, times of economic pressure such as those of today have led non-immigrants to ignore the value added to a country by immigrants and, instead, they have developed a negative attitude towards this group.
Our ways of identification
Ethnic discrimination starts with the national identification of individuals in the workplace, from the job application process, interviews and even once an individual has been employed. It is also very common to identify people based on their appearance, beliefs, religion, native language and accents. However, subjectively placing national labels on people and stereotyping them accordingly is wrong and is often the foundation of discrimination. Because of immigration, today’s society and workforce are more diverse, which creates new dimensions for discrimination. Decades ago studies of discrimination mainly focused on its effects on blacks and females. Today, however, discrimination comes in more forms and is a reality for people of different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds.
Following the Terrorism Act in September of 2004, this type of hiring pattern and other forms of discrimination were heightened in the US. Immigrants in general and members of the Muslim and Arab communities in particular have become targets of discriminatory acts, which has led to the involvement of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Labor Department. However, despite the joint initiative to remedy discrimination and harassment against individuals who are perceived to be Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern, from Afghanistan, etc., the number of complaints filed at the EEOC regarding workplace discrimination relating to religion, ethnicity, national origin or citizenship has indicated that this type of discrimination continues to rise.
Immigrants are usually seen as a competitive threat and are treated unfairly and discriminated against for this reason along with others.
Although it is undisputable that immigrants have, in fact, contributed to the development of the country, it is also important to note that there has been some division among local people as to the net impact of immigration on a country in general. The negative reaction towards immigration, however, is often expressed without making a clear distinction between legal and illegal immigrants. Many local people are concerned about the increasing competition in the labor market and the negative impact it has on wages brought on by incoming immigrants who may possess similar skill levels as their own.
It is pro-cyclical -- more foreigners enter the country when labor demand accelerates and less when it declines. These and other reasons are why it is important to continuously raise awareness of the public, particularly the workforce, on topics relating to diversity and its benefits. Rules and regulations need to be enforced and new laws need to be established to not only protect immigrants from ethnic and racial discrimination but also to control the level of immigration and mitigate its effects on local people. Nonetheless, globalization is a reality and the world is currently one marketplace with the free and easy movement of goods, services and labor. Integration and enhancement of social capital between groups is also of great importance. Finally, although the distinction between citizens (insiders) and noncitizens (outsiders) is important, this distinction also fosters discrimination as one group (the insiders) may naturally feel superior to the other (the outsiders), which could make the noncitizens more susceptible to racial or ethnic discrimination.
*Ali Soylu, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of management and Tom A. Buchanan, is a graduate student of the School of Business at Cameron University.