Immigration is again on the front burner for President Barack Obama and Congress. A bi-partisan group of eight senators crafted an immigration bill and plan to meet with business and labor leaders, this week, who have agreed to an outline for bringing foreign workers into the U.S. However, as usual, the latest rash of meetings on immigration has virtually excluded Black immigrants from continental Africa, Haiti, the Caribbean and Latin America.
Since Blacks’ views on immigration reform are largely ignored, today’s column and next week’s revisit a position which, though controversial, mirrors the feelings of many African Americans and provides information and an afro-centric focus rarely, if ever, mentioned in the immigration reform debate.
In California, the “Dream Act” creates new hope for undocumented immigrants throughout this country who have completed some college or served in the military. However, for Black undocumented immigrants no such opportunity or hope exists.
Generally, when it comes to immigration, for both Blacks and Latinos, the glass is either half-empty or half-full. Latinos fervently embrace the value of immigration, i.e., full citizenship for legal immigrants and legal status for the undocumented in the United States. Many Blacks feel immigration (i.e., Latino immigration) often encroaches on their rights by taking their jobs, receiving special treatment in other areas such as public education, and are accorded rights and privileges to which Blacks are not entitled. For example, many ask. “..Is speaking Spanish really a bona fide requirement for a job sweeping floors?” Without a change in attitude and behavior, on both sides, misunderstanding and intergroup conflict will persist, unabated.
In 2007, Dr. J. Owens Smith, California State University Fullerton, delivered a paper at the National Conference of Black Political Scientists entitled, “The Impact of Immigration on the Socioeconomic status of Blacks: A Case Study of Black-Hispanic Conflict.” In it, he argues immigration is detrimental to Blacks, and many Blacks agree. And, Black leadership adds to the problem because it has opted out of the immigration reform conversation. For example, in 2006, despite massive pro-immigration reform marches and rallies throughout the nation, there was a deafening silence from Black leaders that continues today, although the issue obviously affects their constituents. Dr. Smith’s paper is provocative and he goads Blacks and Latinos to deal with their differences honestly to stimulate needed discussion on this critically important issue.
Smith rightly contends Blacks have always been the victims of racism and racial conflict, adding that the undocumented Latino-Black issue differs because both groups tend to be classified as minority, lower-income and need targeted attention. He also feels Black-Latino conflict in California is more intense than historic Black-white conflict that was based on whites’ maintaining economic control and keeping Blacks in a subservient status.
Dr. Smith considered Alain Locke’s theory of racial contact the best for explaining Black-Latino conflict. Locke’s theory serves as Smith’s framework for identifying and isolating those variables that promote the conflict and for analyzing the political repercussions for society, in general, but Blacks’ economic status in particular. He maintains Blacks’ socioeconomic condition tended to deteriorate as new waves of immigrants arrived in America and displaced Blacks, especially in employment. Locke’s theory focuses on the specific characteristics of immigrant groups as related to Black displacement. He argued that immigrants who have the strongest conception of kinship “…..will be more warlike and will determine the practices of race contact…” These groups become politically powerful.
Smlth also maintains immigrant groups that have migrated to this country have stronger kinship ties than native-born Americans and that such ties came to dictate immigration policies that require immigrants to have such ties in America before immigrating. Further, their desire to stay in this country makes their kinship ties all the more pronounced. They also induce their kin to assist them in adjusting to the American polity, particularly in finding jobs. Within the framework of Locke’s theory of racial contact, Latinos can be viewed as attempting to dominate Blacks socially, economically and, eventually, politically because their kinship ties tend to enable them to do so. Like other Americans, Blacks have internalized cultural values of individualism and materialism and their kinship ties, beginning with slavery that severed all such ties, are clearly not as closely knitted as those of other immigrants, giving the latter an advantage over Blacks in acquiring material resources necessary for success and preservation.
Smith contends Latinos have been given various advantages over Blacks by public policies and government falsely according them the same protective status as Blacks. He cites international law where protective status is reserved for groups that have suffered harm at the hands of their native government. Obviously, Blacks have always suffered from government policies in a system of thinly veiled racial apartheid.
Dr. J. Owens Smith emphasizes the federal government has never adopted policies of racial apartheid that burdened Latinos who are identified chiefly by language, not race and has long recognized Latinos as white. In the 19th century, it granted Latinos full citizenship, entitling them to all the rights and privileges of white citizens. Conversely, America conveyed to Blacks, in the clearest and crudest terms in the Dred-Scott Decision (1857), they had absolutely no rights that whites were bound to respect.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail