"Mexicans ("illegal immigrants") are taking our jobs." This is the clarion claim of countless Blacks', especially those in poor neighborhoods. Although supporting evidence is inconclusive, the claim is pervasive and tends to bolster the case of employers and anti-immigration advocates who welcome heightened tension between Blacks and Latinos because it enhances their respective agendas.
Large numbers of Blacks feel Latino immigrants have encroached on their turf, not only because they feel Latinos are taking their jobs, but also because increasingly, they believe that they receive preferential treatment in other areas such as public education, to which they are not entitled. A vivid example of Black's dismay: These days, although it is occurring more and more, is the ability to speak Spanish really necessary for a job sweeping floors?
This pressing and extremely complex issue remains mostly unattended by government and Black and Latino leadership. Consequently, a bad situation festers, increasing tension between already tenuous relations between Blacks and Latinos. Actually, by default, whites-not Blacks or Latinos-frame the integration debate. Nonetheless, Blacks' claim of discrimination in employment is often valid and must never be summarily dismissed.
No credible argument blames immigration solely for the steady reduction in blue collar jobs in the U.S. Nor did immigration cause the weakening of labor unions, ascendency of high technology or the deterioration of U.S. import/export balances. However, together, all of these things continue to suck up good-paying jobs. And yes, there are some job markets where immigrants, illegal and legal, exert significant, negative influence on Blacks' job prospects.
Low wage labor conditions exist because of the priorities of America's capitalist system that values profit above all else. Therefore, the terms of the immigration debate must be changed to protect the integrity of the nation's low-wage labor markets from conditions that are inconsistent with high living standards and guaranteed civil rights. It is crucial that public policies be designed and adopted to protect the rights and standards of all low-wage workers, including the undocumented, but never at the expense of the Black worker.
The evidence, from an economic standpoint, is that immigration's broader benefits to the nation outweigh its costs. However, the importance of Black workers' job losses due to immigrant competition is unacceptable and this issue must be part of the conversation regarding equitable remedies.
Blacks may want to consider, but not necessarily embrace, political activist Eric Ward's admonition that regardless of what Blacks think about immigration, they must be united in opposition to the anti-immigration movement. "It is a movement that continues to assault Black America by embracing white supremacist leadership who also attack the 14th Amendment and Blacks' voting rights. Ward correctly argues that the anti-illegal immigrant movement is not interested in solutions to migration but in dismantling civil rights, limiting citizenship and redefining our national identity so that white nationalism becomes the country's explicit ideology.
In Los Angeles the anti-immigration activists have the gall to claim that their position and actions actually benefit Blacks. Unfortunately, even though Black leaders totally reject that view, many still tend to reinforce anti-immigrant sentiment by their silence which furthers their individual agendas.
University of California at Berkeley professor, Steven Pitts, argues that there is no correlation between immigration and a lack of jobs for Blacks. Pitts says the real enemy of Black economic opportunity is "a two-dimensional job crisis for Blacks-unemployment and low-wage jobs." He contends that the real crisis stems not from immigration of Latinos, but because of employment discrimination, sub-standard public K-12 schools and continuing attacks on organized labor." But Pitts' argument skirts the need to adequately address current discriminatory public and private sector policies and practices that discriminate against Black workers.
Naturally, anti-immigration groups couldn't care less about problems facing Blacks; everyone knows, or should know that conservatives not only stall immigration reform efforts in Congress and have the poorest record on civil rights'. And groups like the ultra-right John Tanton network maintain strong ties with members of the reconstituted White Citizens Council, the avowed white supremacist organization. The right-wing knows full well that immigrant rights are a strike against bigotry and structural racism. Therefore, it continues to successfully proselytize and unfortunately, count on Black leadership not to forcefully denounce their racist anti-immigrant racist campaigns.
Conservative anti-immigration proponents also fail to admit that de facto segregation and governmental policies and private sector practices continue to discriminate against African Americans and other people of color because such policies and practices perpetuate a status quo that ensures white dominance. Therefore, immigrant rights, notwithstanding, Black leaders themselves must be the vanguard demanding systemic change that benefits their people.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail