Kelly Osbourne and the tired narrative of immigrants doing jobs Americans won’t

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

Kelly Osbourne, who parted ways with E! Entertainment’s Fashion Police after her co-host Giuliana Rancic made a racist joke, has found herself in a race controversy of her own.

"If you kick every Latino out of this country, then who is going to be cleaning your toilet, Donald Trump?" Osbourne said during an appearance on The View Tuesday morning. Her quote immediately unraveled into a controversy on live TV when co-host Rosie Perez called her out. And since it was live TV, people on Twitter immediately started reminding Ousborne that immigrants do a lot more than cleaning toilets.

Osbourne issued an apology soon after for she what described as "a poor choice of words." But what she said is just the more explicit version of the tired narrative that claims immigrants do jobs Americans won’t do.


The argument, which even some immigrant-rights advocates use to make an economic case for immigration reform, aims to prove a person’s worth through their labor. But the argument and Osbourne’s gaffe are one and the same message: immigrants are here to serve you.

“This is so dehumanizing,” said Sonia Guinansaca, a queer migrant poet and coordinator at CultureStrike, a group that uses art to start conversations and create systemic change.

Osbourne’s comments show a “pattern of thinking of migrants only existing in relation to ‘labor’ and their rights being defined in accordance to how much they can contribute to America,” she said.


The truth is immigrants and the sons and daughters of immigrants hold jobs in all sectors of the U.S. workforce. Over the next 20 years, immigrants and their children will account for 85 percent of the net growth in the U.S. labor force, according to the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank based in Washington, D.C.

“To say ‘immigrants do the jobs nobody else will’ can be code for low-wage, unsafe jobs. It can also be used as a racially coded critique on the work ethic of black and other native-born workers of color,” said Mónica Novoa, communications director at the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, an organization working to improve workplaces.


“That’s dangerous because people have worth and dignity no matter their job; so they need jobs with dignity that pay them well and don’t put their health or lives or the environment in danger,” Novoa said.

So instead of saying “immigrants will do jobs Americans won’t,” it would more useful to be explicit and explain why immigrants may be overrepresented in that particular industry.


“In actuality, there’s a crisis of low-wage and temporary labor that pushes poor workers of color including immigrants and black people into jobs where their health and safety in the workplace is precarious – the public needs to support workers when they come together to organize for just, well-paid, safe jobs and industry standards and protections,” Novoa said.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter