Remember What Coretta Scott King Thought About Amnesty

by Ian Smith
Black political leaders have abandoned their constituents on immigration.

In another year of chronically high unemployment among America’s black communities, it’s important we remember the tireless work of the late civil-rights champion and former congresswoman Barbara Jordan. Ms. Jordan was picked by President Clinton to lead the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform that 20 years ago this month published a major report calling for stiff penalties against employers that hire illegal aliens, an expansion of the grounds for deportations, and a complete end to future mass amnesties. In the face of tough opposition from La Raza and other open-borders lobbyists, the introduction of Ms. Jordan’s report declared, “It is both a right and a responsibility of a democratic society to manage immigration so that it serves the national interest.” That the Commission’s recommendations were mostly ignored by Congress was in large part due to Ms. Jordan’s tragic death from leukemia soon after the report’s release.

Where have great black leaders like Ms. Jordan gone? In an era of  widespread black joblessness, black leaders that are willing to split from the Hispanic and cheap labor-lobbies on immigration are needed more than ever. Currently, the national unemployment rate among young blacks is 35 percent. That rate climbs dramatically in high-immigration areas, such as Chicago, where, according to the Chicago Urban League, it’s reached a staggering 92 percent. In spite of this, President Obama is threatening yet another broad administrative amnesty that could exacerbate the job crisis in black communities.

Academic studies clearly show mass immigration’s disastrous effects on the black community: According to Northeastern University professor Andrew Sum, a mere one-percentage-point increase in a state’s labor force caused by immigration results in a 1.2-percentage-point decline in the employment rate of 16- to 24-year-olds in general, and a decline of twice that amount among younger blacks. Harvard economics professor George Borjas says that between 1980 and 2000, immigration reduced the wages of all American workers by 4 percent, with even higher wage reductions for high school drop-outs and black workers. Coupled with our increasingly tech-based, non-manufacturing economy, further flooding of the low-skilled labor market with imported workers will spell disaster for blacks all over the country.

Then there’s affirmative action. Although originally designed by President Kennedy as a jobs booster for blacks, the various preference programs also catch Hispanic immigrants the moment they step into the country. CUNY sociologist Stephen Steinberg, in an essay about mass immigration’s effects on black America, says Hispanics “derailed” affirmative action by “crowding under [its] meagre umbrella.” With the Hispanic population (including illegals) to soon double that of blacks and the slots in set-aside programs, colleges, and public employment shrinking, true black leadership on immigration is ever more necessary.  

In 1991, Coretta Scott King, along with members of the NAACP and Congressional Black Caucus, signed a letter to Senator Orin Hatch arguing against his proposed repeal of sanctions against employers who hire illegal aliens because of the “the devastating impact the repeal would have on the economic condition of un- and semi-skilled workers — a disproportionate number of whom are African American and Hispanic.” Their efforts were unsuccessful, however, such sanctions have never really been enforced. That every one of the 43 black Democrats currently in the House and Senate has taken the opposite position in the latest amnesty talks suggests that they don’t fully appreciate their own history.

Speaking at the Atlanta Cotton States and Southern Exposition in 1895, during the height of the nation’s first immigration wave, Booker T. Washington appealed to industrialists to hire black workers instead of imported immigrants by famously saying, “To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits for the prosperity of the South . . . I say . . . Cast down your bucket where you are.” Writing about immigration and post-emancipation black displacement, Fredrick Douglass said, “The old employment by which we have heretofore gained our livelihood, are gradually, and it may seem inevitably, passing into other hands.” Prominent liberal opinion journals from the early 20th century agreed.

One black leader who does understand her history is Leah Durant of Washington, D.C. Through her twin organizations, the Black American Leadership Alliance and Progressives for Immigration Reform, Ms. Durant has for years tried to motivate and educate members of the black community about mass immigration’s disastrous effects on the labor market. If Democrats are going to take for granted such a core constituency, Republicans attempting to win over blacks, such as Rand Paul, should push for an immigration policy that serves black interests. Better immigration laws could allow blacks to compete for occupations they used to dominate, like meat-packing and janitorial work, at wages that would give a much needed lift to millions of American workers. Let’s stop watching black workers be displaced — it’s black political leaders who ought to be out of a job.

— Ian Smith is an attorney in Washington, D.C.

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