on Illegal Immigration Won't Help Unemployed Blacks
By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The disjointed assembly of black
academics, civil rights activists and black conservatives
that gathered at the National Press Club in Washington,
DC, in late May had only one goal in mind: to stop
passage of the Senate's immigration reform bill.
They formed what they called the Choose Black America
Coalition. The Federation for Immigration Reform,
which has been the loudest and most relentless in
opposing any concessions to immigration rights groups,
sponsored their news conference. The coalition didn't
stop the bill, but it sent another noisy message
that many blacks oppose immigration reform. Coalition
members vowed to stage rallies, join the Minuteman
Project, patrol the border and publicly denounce
black Democrats and civil rights groups that back
Their rage against immigration reform again boiled
down to one thing: jobs. At the press conference,
every speaker charged that illegal immigrants take
jobs from blacks.
The coalition did touch a sore nerve with the jobs
question. Though a May Pew Research Center poll
found that blacks by a bigger percentage than whites
are sympathetic toward the plight of illegal immigrants,
it also found that blacks by a far higher percentage
than whites fear that illegal immigrants take jobs
The moment the illegal immigration issue became
the topic of intense national debate, some blacks
finger-pointed illegal immigrants as the main cause
of the massive economic ills in poor black communities.
And even with the passage of the Senate immigration
reform bill, the finger-pointing hasn't stopped.
If there's any group that illegal immigration may
have had a damaging economic impact on, it is young
black males. But how damaging an impact has that
More than 40 percent of American-born blacks work
in the cleaning and maintenance, food preparation,
light manufacturing and transportation industries.
That's double the figure for whites that work in
those industries. These are also the industries
where the greatest number of illegal immigrants
work. Immediately after the Katrina debacle, black
workers bitterly complained that labor contractors
reneged on their promise to hire them for clean-up
and repair jobs in the hardest-hit Gulf regions
in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. Instead,
they trucked in thousands of undocumented workers.
Homeland Security temporarily suspended sanctions
against employers that hired undocumented workers.
The Gulf clean-up flap was no exception. According
to the Pew Hispanic Research Center, illegal immigrants
make up more than 10 percent of the construction
The Bureau of Labor Statistics current population
survey found that more than half of the nearly four
million immigrant workers American businesses hired
in the past five years have been illegal immigrants.
The BLS calculates that this resulted in the loss
of more than a half million jobs to American-born
workers, the majority of whom were under age 30.
The Bureau of National Affairs based on data from
the BLS reported that for the first time ever in
2005, the rate of unemployment for foreign-born
workers fell faster than the rate on unemployment
for American-born workers.
The numbers are not smoking-gun proof that illegal
immigrants have displaced tens of thousands of young
blacks from jobs. If there were no illegal immigrants
to fill jobs, many employers would still find ways
to skirt discrimination laws and not hire young
blacks. And, given the bottom-level wages and lack
of benefits, many young blacks would not take these
jobs even if they were available. Still, the number
of jobs lost due to illegal immigration is just
enough for some blacks to make the inferential case
that illegal immigration has adversely affected
The black immigration opponents say the answer is
to jail the immigrants, kick them out and militarize
the border. This is inflammatory and delusional.
Employers will continue to put the welcome mat out
for cheap labor, illegal or otherwise. And, when
they can get away with it, exploit them shamelessly.
Katrina is an example of that. At the same time
that black workers complained that illegal immigrants
took clean-up jobs from them in the Gulf area, two
federal class-action suits were filed that alleged
that thousands of migrant workers worked brutal
12-hour shifts removing dangerous toxic wastes from
buildings -- and were not paid.
Immigration opponents have not pressed government
officials and business leaders for more job funding
and training programs and to toughen enforcement
against job discrimination. That would dent the
job crisis among young blacks. But it would also
remove the issue of black joblessness from the anti-immigrant
activists' arsenal of weapons they use to bludgeon
the public and elected officials on the perils of
illegal immigration. The worry over black joblessness
also enables them to con a few blacks into expressing
support for ultra-conservative groups such as the
Minuteman Project, a few of whom turned up at the
National Press Club.
The crisis of black unemployment is very real. But
dumping all or most of the blame for that crisis
on illegal immigration won't solve it, and neither
will shrill rhetoric from a rump black anti-immigrant
group. - New America Media