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Immigration and Black Americans
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Immigration and Black Americans

"Black Californians felt the sting of illegal immigration 15 years ago but didn't know quite what to make of its symptoms. As a result, they are now critically and in many cases, fatally wounded with respect to low-skilled or entry-level positions. And, the black casualties continue to mount.": Karen Huff, San Diego Union-Tribune, Dec. 10, 1997.

"This once predominantly black neighborhood is becoming largely Hispanic. South Central [Los Angeles] is being transformed. Here we talk about 'black flight.' People are leaving neighborhoods where they have lived for years because they don't feel like they belong any more.": Terry Anderson, San Francisco Examiner, Feb. 3, 1999.

One of the cruelest effects of high-level immigration to the U.S. is its worsening of the plight of black Americans. Historically, blacks have suffered as a result of immigration. In the first half of the 1800s, immigration blocked blacks from economic mobility opportunities. Frederick Douglass was moved to say, "The old employments by which we have heretofore gained our livelihood, are gradually, and it may seem inevitably, passing into other hands. Every hour sees the black man elbowed out of employment by some newly arrived immigrant whose hunger and whose color are thought to give him a better title to the place."

During the post-Civil War industrial expansion, blacks lost out even for entry level positions when business owners preferred to hire white immigrants, who were then brought in en masse. The situation today is similar. During the Civil Rights era of the 1950s and 1960s, which was to have "freed" black Americans socially and economically, Congress also changed immigration law to pave the way for close to a million immigrants a year--many of whom compete with blacks for entry level positions.

According to recent studies, immigrants displace a disproportionate number of black workers and lower their wages. For example, a GAO study found that a decade of heavy immigration to Los Angeles had changed the janitorial industry from a mostly native black, unionized workforce to one of non-unionized Latinos, many of whom were illegal aliens.

According to the Census, the employment of black Americans as hotel workers in California dropped 30 percent in the 1980s, while the number of immigrants with such jobs rose 166 percent. A similar story can be told of the garment industry, the restaurant business, hospital work, and public service jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found in a recent study that immigration accounts for about 50 percent of the decline in real wages for the lowest-skilled American workers, many of whom are blacks.

Immigration researcher and commentator Roy Beck noted in his 1996 book, The Case Against Immigration that:

"To review the Black side of our nation's immigration tradition is to observe African Americans periodically trying to climb the mainstream economic ladder, only to be shoved aside each time. It is to see one immigrant wave after another climb onto and up that ladder while planting their feet on the backs of Black Americans. . . . The most racist policy in this country for the past 25 years has been our immigration policy, because it has been the worst thing that has happened to the Blacks from the federal government since slavery."

George LaNoue, professor of political science at the University of Maryland, points out, "Affirmative action that was originally designed to compensate for the decades of discrimination against American blacks has been turned into a system where many of the beneficiaries, and in some environments, some cities, some sectors, most of the beneficiaries are people of fairly recent immigrant origin."

Black Americans are aware of immigration's impact and generally support immigration reform. The Roper Organization found in 1995 that 72 percent of black Americans think that immigration should be cut to less than a third of its present level. Gerri Williams, editor of Immigration Impact: Documenting the Effects of Immigration on African Americans, has noted, "as with earlier waves of immigration, African Americans have experienced the effects of this influx first and hardest. In education, politics, the labor market, social services, and more, the pressures caused by record levels of immigration are being felt in the black community. Immigration is one of the most significant forces affecting African Americans today."

While immigration reform would not be a panacea for all the difficulties of black Americans, it is obviously a step in the right direction. Congress must recognize that its policy of excessive immigration creates more obstacles to black advancement and should reduce admissions immediately.

-- Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)


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