Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Should Immigration Reform Concern African-Americans?

That's a picture of me and Domingo Garcia, in the recent Mega March in Dallas, in support of immigration reform and against the recent immigration laws passed by the Arizona legislature.
Domingo is a local prominent attorney, former state legislator and city council member.
In his positions as an elected official, we have worked on education, job training and quality of life issues that benefited his community and mine.

We're also former high school classmates. In fact, we've known one another since we were probably 14-15 years old.

The issue of a reasonable, humane, comprehensive solution to immigration reform is something that concerns both of us. And it should be a concern of every African-American.

For too long, far too many blacks in our country have viewed this issue with either indifference, or prejudice, allowing themselves to be blinded or deafened by bigoted arguments that have no basis in fact. Far too many black people have allowed themselves to be sucked into someone else's argument, forgetting the fact that the Civil Rights Movement had, at its core, a call for the just and fair treatment of all citizens and the recognition of the dignity and worth of all people.
Black people are the last people in this country who should allow themselves to be even emotionally allied with those who would disrespect and dishonor any people. Undocumented or not.

I realize that the undocumented immigrants are here illegally (I don't believe in calling people 'illegal'. Actions are illegal, not people. Their presence here may be illegal, but no one's existence constitutes a crime). But they are here for a reason. They are here because there is work here and there have been people who have been happy to have them here to do that work. Whether that work is landscaping, waiting tables, washing dishes, caring for children, construction or cleaning houses, picking our vegetables and fruits. A bad economy and a terrorist attack has suddenly made their presence here for the very work we were glad to have them do, 'undesirable'.

So they are here. Some 11-15, some say 20 million of them. They are not all Hispanic. Some are African, others are Europeans who have overstayed their visas, or whose green cards have expired. But the popular 'face' of the 'illegal' immigrant is brown?
Too many African Americans have bought into the fallacy, that 'they' (undocumented immigrants) take black jobs. But as Monique Morris ably points out,"...there is no "black job." While immigration trends have led to immigrants filling low wage jobs that were historically filled by African-American workers, no low-wage job was ever exclusively black; so, the foundation upon which the assertion that someone is taking away "black jobs" is flawed on its premise. Undocumented immigrants have participated in the American workforce; however, a greater percentage of American jobs are being hidden by a heavy bureaucracy that denies to the American labor force an opportunity to work."

"In other words, in most states, it's not undocumented immigrants who are keeping jobs from U.S. citizens. Access to appropriate education and training, employer bias, incorrect background checks, inappropriate credit checks and other structural barriers also serve as barriers to employment. However, in some cases, particularly in states where residential segregation is most acute, it's our own state governments that are preventing folks from working."

"Instead of pointing a half-informed finger at undocumented immigrants, we should fix the structures that are actually denying Americans employment. Immigration, particularly the need for comprehensive immigration reform, will undoubtedly continue to dominate the public discourse about our changing nation--especially if these ten states are successful in their efforts to copy the Arizona legislation. But armed with information about what's real, and what's propaganda, we shouldn't fall for the proverbial "banana in the tail pipe." We should recognize that the threat to our employment is not the coming of new immigrants--documented or undocumented. It's the lack of transparency and continued segregation of opportunity that threatens the integrity of our quest for employment."

And again from Earl Hutchinson, "...there is no concrete evidence that the majority of employers hire Latinos at low-end jobs and exclude blacks from them solely because of their race. The sea of state and federal anti-discrimination laws and labor code sections explicitly ban employment discrimination. Despite a handful of lawsuits and settlements by blacks against and with major employers for alleged racial favoritism toward Hispanic workers, employers vehemently deny that they shun blacks, and maintain that blacks don't apply for these jobs."

"These aren't just flimsy covers for discrimination. Many blacks will no longer work the low skilled, menial factory, restaurant, and custodial jobs which in decades past they filled. The pay is too low, the work too hard, and the indignities too great. On the other hand, those blacks that seek these jobs are often given a quick brush off by employers. The subtle message is that blacks won't be hired, even if they do apply. An entire category of jobs at the bottom rung of American industry has been clearly marked as "Latino only" jobs. That further deepens suspicion and resentment among blacks that illegal immigration is to blame for the economic misery of poor blacks."

"A Pew Hispanic Center survey in 2008 found that tens of thousands of blacks were employed in the top occupational categories of illegal workers (farming, maintenance, construction, food service, production and material moving). The survey also found that a significant percentage of meat-processing workers and janitors were black. Even more surprising, more than 10 percent of blacks were still involved in agriculture - an area which is often perceived to be is to be the province of illegal immigrants."

Arizona's law, is ultimately the result of the failure of those in power in Washington, now and in the past to have the courage to do their jobs. Republicans have not wanted to alienate a potentially powerful bloc of votes; Democrats have feared losing what, before 2008, was a tenuous grip on a sizable interest group. And they both know that the quality of life that we have enjoyed, has come at the hands of off shored jobs and the cheap labor of immigrants at home. Both parties know that something needs to be done and both parties know what has to be done.

The real danger of this unresolved immigration issue for black Americans, is that by falling into the cesspool of bigotry and prejudice that characterizes the extremists and the alarmists, is that we forget our own struggle in this country. When times are tough there are Americans who cannot weather the storm without identifying scapegoats. Black people, no American really, should never get so comfortable as to believe that the scapegoating of another people is acceptable.

Immigration reform that includes a guest worker program, pathways to citizenship, the DREAM Act, as an interim measure, increased and well funded border security, as well as the deportation of undocumented immigrants involved in illegal activity, makes more sense than misguided and ill informed rhetoric that suggests we ship more than 11 million people 'back where they came from'.

Arizona's state law, gives law enforcement powers that eerily reflect a period not so long ago when one could be stopped, questioned, even detained, because of the color of one's skin.

And to ignore those similarities will lead to further indignities and atrocities. Those indignities and atrocities will, on their face, sound 'reasonable'. They will sound as if they are recognitions of an arrival to a post racial period in our country, where the corrections of extreme unfairness and injustices are no longer 'in vogue', or necessary.

Oh wait, its already happening...

"Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has signed a bill targeting a school district's ethnic studies program, hours after a report by United Nations human rights experts condemned the measure."

"State schools chief Tom Horne, who has pushed the bill for years, said he believes the Tucson school district's Mexican-American studies program teaches Latino students that they are oppressed by white people."

"Public schools should not be encouraging students to resent a particular race, he said."

""It's just like the old South, and it's long past time that we prohibited it," Horne said."

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