"Mexicans ("illegal immigrants") are taking our jobs." This specious claim is made by a considerable number of Blacks in Los Angeles, especially in poorer neighborhoods. Although the evidence does not support the claim, it persists. And White anti-immigration conservatives-with the help of their Black counterparts- exploit strained relations between Blacks and Latinos for their own purposes.
Many Blacks feel that Latino immigrants, legal and illegal, have encroached on their turf by taking their jobs, (Selling oranges on freeway off ramps?), receiving preferred treatment in employment and public education, and being accorded other rights and privileges to which they are not entitled. The extremely complex immigration issue is unattended, generally, and by Black leadership, as well. Therefore, it festers, inevitably leading to heightened tension and conflict between opposing factions.
Anti-immigration Blacks' views, though problematic, should be addressed by Black elected officials and other so-called leaders, who apparently do what they consider politically correct, routinely maintaining reprehensible silence on the issue.
No remotely credible argument blames immigration for the steady reduction in blue collar jobs in the U.S. Nor did immigration cause the weakening of labor unions, ascendency of high technology, or the deterioration of U.S. import/export balances. Combined, these things continue to suck up good-paying jobs. Although the effect is relatively modest, there are some job markets where immigrants exert significant negative influence on Blacks' job prospects.
Low wage labor conditions in this affluent democratic society exist because in the present climate of immigrant-bashing there is little support for social and political action that advocates protecting "illegal workers." The terms of the debate must be changed to protect the integrity of the nation's low-wage labor markets, and citizens working in them, from conditions inconsistent with high living standards and guaranteed civil rights. Accordingly, it is crucial that social policies designed to protect the rights and living standards of all low-wage workers, including the undocumented, be adopted.
The evidence supports the conclusion that from an economic standpoint, immigration's broader benefits to the nation outweigh its costs. The relative importance of Black workers' job losses due to competition from immigrants is offset by a constellation of other factors that diminish their economic status.
Blacks would do well to heed political activist Eric Ward's admonition that regardless of what Blacks think about immigration, they must be united in opposition to the anti-immigrant movement. "It is a movement that continues to assault Black America by embracing White supremacists' leadership that attacks the 14th Amendment and Black voting rights." Ward correctly argues that the anti-immigrant movement is not interested in solutions to migration but in dismantling civil rights, limiting citizenship, and redefining our national identity so that White nationalism becomes its explicit ideology. (Note last week's murder of a Black security guard by an 88 year old White supremacist at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.)
In Los Angeles, as elsewhere, the anti-immigration movement claims what they are doing will actually benefit Blacks. Fortunately, relatively few Black leaders and "activists" take the bait. But some are complicit in spreading anti-immigrant sentiment in furtherance of personal agendas.
University of California professor Steven Pitts points out that there is no correlation between immigration and a lack of jobs for Blacks. Pitts says the real enemy of Black economic opportunity is "a two-dimensional job crisis for Blacks-unemployment and low-wage jobs." In other words, the real crisis stems not from immigration or Latinos, but because of employment discrimination, sub-standard public K-12 schools and continuing attacks on organized labor.
Not surprisingly, anti-immigrant groups do not focus on the problems facing Blacks; the movement's elected leadership has one of the worst records against civil rights in Congress. Also, the vigorously anti-immigrants rights, ultra-right John Tanton Network maintains strong ties with members of the reconstituted White Citizens Council, a notorious segregationist organization.
Eric Ward is right. The anti-immigration movement knows that immigrants' rights are a blow against organized bigotry and structural racism. It continues to proselytize, hoping that Blacks won't focus on what is imminently possible-the opportunity to forcefully denounce organized bigotry and racism, and by doing so, protect their own interests.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail