Last week’s U.S. Supreme Court’s decision blocked President Obama’s immigration plan, at least temporarily. The 4-4 vote upheld a lower court’s ruling that Obama overstepped his authority in expanding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and authorizing the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Residents (DAPA). That plan would have shielded as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and allowed them to legally work in the U.S.
However, once again, we are reminded that Black immigrants (and Black Americans) are not part of the immigration reform debate; they are not even a footnote in the massive nationwide reaction to last week’s court decision. Dr. J. Owens-Smith, California State University Fullerton, addresses immigration from an unapologetically Black perspective. His analysis, interspersed throughout this column, will anger some, so be it.
When it comes to immigration, the proverbial glass is half-empty or half-full. Generally, Latinos fervently espouse the value of immigration—full citizenship for legal immigrants and legal status in the United States for the undocumented. Their basic argument is that granting immigrants full standing has always been an integral part of American tradition that also benefits society as a whole.
On the other hand, many Blacks feel immigration, especially current Latino immigration, encroaches on their turf, i.e., taking their jobs, receiving preferential treatment in areas such as employment and public education and being accorded rights and privileges to which they are not entitled. The views of both groups are obviously firmly entrenched and left unattended could eventually lead to open conflict.
In 2007, Dr. Smith delivered a paper at a national conference of Black political scientists entitled, “The Impact of Immigration on the Socioeconomic Status of Blacks: A Case Study of Black/Hispanic Conflict.” He argues immigration is detrimental to Blacks—and many, if not most Blacks might agree with him. Black leadership has opted out of the discussion on this very important issue. Despite sustained legislative, policy and massive pro-immigration marches and rallies nationwide, there has been a deafening silence from Black leaders, despite the fact that immigration directly, and indirectly. affects their constituents.
Dr. Smith’s paper is provocative and, for some, contentious, but he goads both sides to engage their differences in a more direct, honest manner. Notwithstanding its controversial nature, or perhaps because of it, the paper helps to stimulate and broaden needed discussion on a critical topic.
Smith rightly contends Blacks have always been the victims of racism and racial conflict. He asserts current immigration reform efforts differ from similar intergroup conflicts because both Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately lower income and classified as needing special attention. He views current Black-Latino conflict in California just as pronounced as historic Black-white conflict that was based primarily on whites’ maintaining a higher, race-based socioeconomic status than Blacks.
Allain Locke’s theory of racial contact is useful in explaining the Black/Latino immigration conflict, according to Smith. Locke’s theory is Smith’s framework for attempting to identify and isolate those variables that promote the conflict and to analyze the political repercussions for American society in general and Blacks’ socioeconomic status in particular.
Historically, Blacks’ socioeconomic conditions tended to deteriorate as new waves of immigrants arrived in America, often displacing Blacks, especially in employment. Locke’s theory focuses on the characteristics of immigrant groups and Smith uses it to explain Blacks’ displacement. Locke argued immigrants that have the strongest conception of kinship are more likely “warlike and will determine the practices of race contact.” Also, strong kinship groups tend to become politically powerful.
Generally, immigrant groups that migrate to America have stronger kinship ties than most Americans. These ties are fundamental to U.S. immigration policies that require immigrants to have kinship ties in America, oftentimes before immigrating. Their desire to stay in America renders their kinship ties more pronounced than those within most American racial and ethnic groups Obviously, such ties induce their kin here to assist them in becoming adjusted to the American polity, and for Latinos, particularly, in finding jobs. Essentially, within the framework of Locke’s theory of race contact, the Black-Latino conflict can be viewed as Latinos attempting to dominate Blacks—socially, economically and politically because their kinship ties-and greater numbers- better enable them to do so.
Unfortunately, like many others, Blacks have internalized whites’ cultural values of individualism and materialism without access to their benefits. And Black kinship ties are not as closely knitted as most immigrant groups, including Latinos. This gives the latter an advantage over Blacks in acquiring employment, better schooling and societal benefits in general.
In addition, Latinos have been given various advantages over Blacks by public policies, including being accorded the same protective status as Blacks. Under international law, protective status is reserved for groups that have suffered harm at the hands of their native government. Don’t Blacks continue to suffer from government policies that have historically subjected them to a system of racial apartheid?
Dr. Smith contends the federal government’s policies of racial apartheid have never applied to Latinos in the ways they have to Blacks. Further, government long ago recognized Latinos as white—in the mid-19th century, it granted Latinos full citizenship, entitling them to all rights and privileges of white citizens. Conversely, America has always told Blacks, in the clearest and crudest terms, (the Dred Scott Decision, 1857) that they had absolutely no rights that whites were bound to respect.