Today’s column continues the discussion about immigration, citing and expanding portions of Dr. J. Owens Smith’s (CSU Fullerton) paper, “The Impact of Immigration on the Socioeconomic Status of Blacks: A Case Study of Black-Hispanic Conflict.”
Dr. Smith’s fundamental argument is that undocumented Latino immigration is detrimental to Blacks. He contends that from the 1930s to the adoption of affirmative action, Latinos enjoyed the same rights and privileges as whites. Further, whatever socioeconomic disadvantages they suffered were not because of race, but language and their socioeconomic status in the society from which they migrated. Since affirmative action attached benefits to being a minority, Latinos began to claim that they, too, were a racial minority. The federal government recognized their claim and accorded them the same minority status as Blacks.
The authority of the government in granting any group “harm status” is seeded in international law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights places an obligation on “states” (nations) to develop a system for the prevention of discrimination and protection of its minority populations. Its Sub-Commission on Human Rights provides the following definition: “Differential treatment of such groups (minorities) is justified when it is exercised in the interest and welfare of the community as a whole……..In order to qualify for protection, a minority must owe undivided allegiance to the government of the state in which he (or she) lives. Its members must also be nationals of that state.”
Dr. Smith points out that the Sub-Commission’s definition of minority excludes “aliens” (undocumented persons) from privileges accorded to national minority groups. To grant the undocumented such protection, in effect, grants them more extensive protection than the natives of a state.
Within the above definition, three characteristics “disqualify” Latinos from being classified as a minority group that requires special attention: They are not trying to preserve their language; all Latinos do not have undivided allegiance to the U.S.; Latino and other undocumented groups are immigrants, not nationals. Also, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights places no obligation on states to provide immigrant groups harm status for injuries incurred in their homeland.
The Sub-Commission on Human Rights made a distinction between “legitimate” (national) minorities and artificial minorities, i.e., those groups that claim minority status for the purpose of receiving benefits, for example, claiming minority status to benefit from minority programs.
Historically, Latinos were considered white by both the government and themselves, and their language was not a barrier to their socioeconomic growth and development. According to Dr. Smith, another advantage they enjoy over Blacks is that many immigrated with skills, particularly entrepreneurial skills. As a result, many of the skills training programs in America have been dismantled, forcing Blacks, and others to compete at a disadvantage with immigrants for skilled jobs. (I would argue that this argument, in general, and especially as related to high-level skills, applies more to Asian than Latino immigrants.)
The huge increase in Latino populations throughout the nation resulted largely from passage of the 1965 Immigration Act, designed to allow immigrants from various third world countries to migrate to America. The majority of these immigrants were non-white, but prior to the adoption of affirmative action, virtually all were classified as white. Because of the benefits affirmative action attached to minority status, many of these groups began identifying themselves as minorities. However, under international law, they are classified as artificial minorities, since no group harm was inflicted upon them- nor were they ever subjected to the same discriminatory policies and practices suffered by Blacks.
As the Latino population grew, the government arbitrarily gave Latinos group harm status without having adopted a policy that inflicted harm on them. The term “group harm” means a collective harm against a group that transcended generations and was enforced through public policy.
At the core of Black-Latino conflict is government policy that upheld an artificial minority, granting it group harm status without having imposed such harm. This policy gave an artificial minority (Latinos) preference to resources based on their swelling numbers that posed a continuing threat to Blacks’ rights, particularly in employment. Dr. Smith asserts that much anti-Black sentiment is based on stereotypes formed in Latinos’ homelands and intensifies Black-Latino conflict.
Dr. Smith’s paper evokes-and provokes-strong, positive and negative response, probably because his chief argument, that government policy and practice concerning undocumented Latino immigrants, has a detrimental impact on Blacks is virtually excluded from the immigration discussion. Clearly, the ‘Black” issue is relevant to the debate, but just as clearly, is excluded from it. It is also obvious that current immigration discourse ignores undocumented Black immigrants from Haiti Africa, Latin America, etc. This is reprehensible. (As is the prolonged silence on the part of Black leadership about Latino immigration and its affect on Blacks, particularly in places like Los Angeles that have very large Latino populations-citizen, immigrant, and undocumented.)
The underlying message is that immigration must not be at Blacks’ expense and the rights and concerns of Black citizens as well as those of undocumented Black immigrants must become an integral part of the immigration reform debate. Otherwise, predictably, governmental inequity and Black-Latino conflict will continue, unabated. The challenges, especially amid growing economic disparities, demand strong, effective leadership that protects Blacks’ best interests.