Black Scholars Speak Out
Against Immigration Reform
Coalition’s stance at odds with those of traditional civil rights groups.
By Ibram Rogers
A new coalition featuring several Black scholars has joined the immigration debate, arguing that pro-immigration reforms would have a grave impact on Black America.
The coalition, called Choose Black America, promotes a view that is very different from the more sympathetic stance of the NAACP, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and other Black leaders.
In its inaugural press conference held late last month in Washington, D.C., coalition members sharply denounced federal legislation that would create a pathway to U.S. citizenship for more than 11 million illegal immigrants.
Their chief complaint: Massive illegal immigration has economically crippled Black America, resulting in lost jobs, lower wages and fewer social services.
“Immigration policy can influence and change the fundamental character of America, and it could greatly impact those who are the most vulnerable among us,” says Dr. Frank Morris Sr., the coalition’s chairman and a former dean at the University of Maryland and Morgan State University. “Many of the most vulnerable continue to be disproportionately African-American.”
Choose Black America has placed itself at odds with several traditional civil rights organizations and Black leaders, many of whom encourage Black support of immigrant groups in their fight for immigration reform.
And while the coalition says it reflects the opinion of most Black Americans, several recent polls tell a somewhat different story.
Forty-seven percent of Blacks surveyed in an April 2006 poll by the Pew Research Center said illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the country. The same percentage said illegal immigrants should be required to leave.
According to the same Pew Research Center poll, only 22 percent of Blacks surveyed said they or a family member have lost a job, or not gotten a job, because an employer hired an immigrant worker.
Nevertheless, coalition members say they’re convinced that illegal immigrants are taking jobs, social services and even the phrase “civil rights” away from Blacks.
“What they did in effect was wipe out all of the economic gains of Black folk during the civil rights movement,” says Dr. Claud Anderson, a coalition member and author of Black Labor, White Wealth.
Research on the claims of the coalition is mixed.
In a 2006 study, Harvard economists George Borjas and Lawrence Katz estimated that the immigrant influx between 1980 and 2000 reduced the wages of the typical American worker by 3.4 percent. The wages of high school dropouts — a category in which Blacks are over-represented — fell by 8.2 percent. In the long run, high school dropouts will experience a wage reduction of 4.8 percent, the study concluded.
But a 2005 study by the Pew Research Center found that Black employment had not subsided in the six Southern states that had the highest Hispanic immigration growth rates in the 1990s. In addition, the study found that those states added jobs for both Hispanic and non-Hispanic workers at rates higher than the national average.
“African-Americans need to be cautious of being seduced into singing the collective song, ‘There is no more room at the inn,’” Larry Saxxon, the executive director of the African Immigrant and Refugee Resource Center, wrote in an op-ed published in the San Francisco Bay View. “This nation of immigrants’ should preface every sentence when discussing the issue of immigration in America.”
Others say the debate could create a division between two groups that should be working together.
“My greatest fear is that the current immigration battle in Congress ends up pitting the people with the least amount of resources against each other,” wrote columnist Eugene Kane in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “By that, I mean low-income African-Americans and low-income Hispanics — both U.S. citizens and undocumented immigrants — all fighting over the same crumbs at the lowest level of the job market.”
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