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The politics of supporting immigration rights

David L. Horne, PH.D. | 5/11/2017, midnight

As part of the recent commemoration of the assassination of Dr. Martin L. King Jr., Dr. Ben Chavis, the long-time civil rights activist and current president of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, penned an opinion piece focused on re-affirming the continuing struggle for fairness, justice and equal treatment for all. In that article, he stressed the need to hold accountable a number of groups which were allowing the surreptitious funding of hate groups, including anti-immigrant activists. Though his article was broader than the issue of supporting expanded immigration rights in the U.S., he was taken to task, respectfully, by Mr. Tom Broadwater, the head of the Americans4Work group.

Mr. Broadwater’s point was that Dr. Chavis needed to re-evaluate and re-consider his view that supporting immigrant rights was an effective way to help and support the benefits and rights due to African American workers. Mr. Broadwater repeated the oft-heard view that supporting immigrant rights was, in effect, supporting the continued mistreatment and labor exploitation of African Americans. To wit, more immigrants, more “sanctuary cities,” more energy spent on protecting legal and illegal immigration, then the more negative impact there would be on African American employment.

Mr. Broadwater directly stated that, among other areas of concern, there continues, “our nation’s negligent or opportunistic gifting of jobs and business opportunities to newly arrived legal and illegal aliens who a) weren’t damaged/injured by American slavery, b) have little or no regard for Black Americans and c) are expert at claiming a diversity distinction for their benefit.” Summarily, the assertion is that supporting immigrant rights and expansion take jobs away from more deserving African Americans, and that Dr. Chavis should be, in memory of Dr. King, an advocate of Black American workers First.

In support of his view, Mr. Broadwater cites the H1B and H2B visa programs that have allowed rich business people and corporations to sneak into the U.S. thousands, even millions, of foreign workers willing to take lower wages for jobs which African Americans are routinely denied access. This is, according to Mr. Broadwater, in spite of the expanding number of graduates from HBCU schools who are trained in STEM-related tech fields, but who rarely get recruited for or interviewed for jobs in that sector.

Mr. Broadwater has many allies in this view. The point is now a chestnut in some parts of the Black community and no longer needs any proof, just constant regurgitation. A well-known Southern California writer, Larry Aubry, for example, recently referred to this view thusly: “Large numbers of Blacks feel Latino immigrants have encroached on their turf, not only because Latinos are being employed at their expense, but because they also believe Latinos receive preferential treatment in other areas such as public education and public services, to which they are not entitled. A vivid example of Black’s concern: These days, many employment ads include the phrase, “Spanish speaking preferred.” Is the ability to speak Spanish really necessary for a job sweeping floors?”

However, it must be stated clearly here that the relationship between the immigration/anti-immigration issue and African American employment is a very complicated one, as Mr. Aubry later says, rather than a simple one. There is no fast and easy explanation of that relationship. To Dr. Steven Pitts, a labor expert at UC Berkeley, “There is no correlation between immigration and a lack of jobs for Blacks… “The real enemy of Black economic opportunity is …a two-dimensional job crisis for Blacks-unemployment and low-wage jobs,” compounded by persistent employment discrimination, sub-standard public K-12 schools, and lack of advanced job training.