Thursday, August 22, 2002

Immigrant prejudice

Army vet can't get night job

        Would you hire this man?

        George Elias Sr. is a hard working plumber who likes getting to the job early and hates calling in sick.

        He's 45, with 14 years experience as a security guard. Before moving to Cincinnati in 1999, he managed burger and taco restaurants in the Bay area and served in the U.S. Army.

        George needs a second job to pay the bills from his wife's car wreck and stomach surgery.

        Salary doesn't matter.

        “I'll work minimum wage,” he told me, “No problem.”

        But there is a problem.

        No one will hire him.

        There's one more thing you should know about George.

        He graduated from high school in Baghdad.

        He's a native of Iraq. Came to America in 1976.

        “I wanted to be free. I love this country.”

        George lists his place of birth on job applications. He's filled out a slew of them at the fast-food joints near the Goshen home he shares with his wife, Kelly, and their two sons George Jr. and Joseph.

        “I'll work any job,” he said. Wash dishes. Wait tables. Stuff tacos. Fry burgers.

        Yet, he can't land that second paycheck. Instead, he's met the ugly faces of prejudice, ignorance and stupidity.

        In this post 9-11 world, he has seen the eyes of restaurant managers come to a dead stop when they read the word “Baghdad” on his application.

        “Their eyes narrow,” George said. “They give me that look.” Of fear. Of seeing the enemy.

        Then the excuses start.

        “We're not hiring anymore.”

        “We filled that job.”

        “We should have taken down that "now hiring' sign months ago.”

        These excuses come from employees of restaurant chains that proudly fly the Stars & Stripes outside. Their corporate headquarters create commercials designed to tug at Americans' patriotic heartstrings.

        These excuses don't sound like they're being true to the red, white and blue. They betray the ideals of the republic for which that flag stands.

        George is not angry at the restaurant managers.

        “I just feel sorry for them,” he said.

        “Our boys and girls — I can say that because my daughter, Donya, is in the U.S. Army — are fighting for our freedoms.

        “Yet, these people are preventing me from enjoying my freedom.”

        George wishes the restaurant managers would take the time to get to know him. “Don't judge me by the color of my skin.”

        They would find out he's a workaholic dedicated to his adopted country.

        When terrorists struck on Sept. 11, he was working in Mariemont. He organized his fellow plumbers “to volunteer to donate blood to the Red Cross.”

        Days later, George called the FBI and offered his services. In addition to English, he speaks Assyrian, his native tongue, Arabic, and “a little Kurdish and Armenian.”

        He told the FBI: “I could stand in airports and pretend I'm a custodian.”

        He could hang out in coffee shops. Or, translate taped conversations.

        The FBI gave him the same response he's heard from prospective employers: Don't call us. We'll call you.

        Knowing Cincinnati and its generous spirit, knowing that America is still the land of the free and the home of the brave, I'm betting someone out there has a job for this man.

        George swears he won't let them down.

        “I want to take care of my family,” he said.

        “I don't want to apply for welfare. I want to work.”

        He can prove he's a man of his word.

        Just give him a chance.

        Call Cliff Radel at 768-8379; or e-mail:



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