Why Blacks March Against Illegal Immigration—And Why They Shouldn’t
New America Media, Commentary, Earl Ofari Hutchinson Posted: Jun 21, 2007
Traducción al español
Editor's Note: In the last 15 years, many African Americans have supported anti-immigration measures in states such as California and Arizona. Fueled by a soaring unemployment rate among African-American men, anti-immigrant sentiment among blacks is understandable, argues NAM editor Earl Ofari Hutchinson, but the blame is misdirected. Hutchinson is the author of “The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African Americans and Hispanics,” to be published in October 2007.
The buzz on the June 23 march against illegal immigration in Los Angeles is that it’s a historic event. It’s the first time Los Angeles, or any city, for that matter, has issued an official permit for blacks to march against illegal immigration.
The march, as far as it is known, was planned and organized by black activists. Though the march is unique, blacks have been loudly protesting illegal immigration since it became a stormy national issue and ripped apart Congress last year.
In May 2006, an odd assemblage of writers, preachers, a homeless rights advocate, professional anti-immigration advocates, and a few local black community residents from the Washington, D.C., area grabbed some camera time with a press conference. They called themselves Choose Black America and claimed that the overwhelming majority of black Americans agreed with them that illegal immigration was the prime threat to blacks.
This was hardly a spontaneous gathering of public-spirited blacks who were outraged at the impact of illegal immigration, and neither was their red-hot rhetoric against the bill.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform paid for the airfare, hotel accommodations and other expenses for most of the participants as well as the rental fee for the press conference. The organization has long demanded the toughest possible immigration laws and the tightest possible border control.
But the participants in the conference had made their point that there are a few noted blacks who are willing to put their bodies and faces in front of a camera in opposition to immigration reform, and that they weren’t scared of being branded bigots in the process.
Their Washington, D.C., flutter was the high water mark for blacks against immigration. With the eventual death of the immigration reform bill in Congress, the group quickly vanished from the public’s radar.
However, when the Senate briefly resuscitated the bill in April, black immigration opponents got a new lease on life. The Los Angeles march will give them another chance to tap into the ambivalence, frustration, unease and even anger among many blacks over illegal immigration.
The signs that illegal immigration touched a sore nerve in many blacks have been there all along. The first big warning sign of black frustration with illegal immigration came during the battle over Proposition 187 in California in 1994. White voters supported by big margins the proposition that denied public services to undocumented immigrants. But nearly 50 percent of blacks also backed the measure.
Republican Gov. Pete Wilson shamelessly pandered to anti-immigrant hysteria and rode it to a re-election victory. Wilson also got nearly 20 percent of the black vote in the 1994 election. It was double what Republicans in California typically get from blacks. Wilson almost certainly bumped up his black vote with his freewheeling assault on illegal immigration.
Blacks have also given substantial support to anti-bilingual ballot measures in California.
More than a decade later, black attitudes toward illegal immigrants (almost always seen as Latino) was put to the electoral test in Arizona with another ballot initiative. Proposition 200 mandated tough sanctions on employers for hiring illegal immigrants, as well as tighter border enforcement. Exit polls showed that more than 65 percent of blacks backed the measure. As with Proposition 187 in California a decade before, it passed by a landslide.
The black vote on anti-illegal immigration bills and their antipathy to illegal immigration as measured by the polls fly in the face of the staunch support that mainstream civil rights organizations and most of the Congressional Black Caucus have given to the passage of comprehensive, liberal immigration reform. It even contradicts polls that showed that blacks backed liberal immigration reform by big margins during last year’s great immigration debate.
Yet the kicker in those polls was the issue of jobs. Blacks expressed deep worry that they were slipping further behind in the battle for more jobs. That’s a legitimate fear. Blacks suffer the highest rate of unemployment of any group in America. The job crisis has had an especially devastating impact on young, marginally skilled and educated black males. In the eternal hunt for scapegoats for the job crisis, illegal immigration is the easiest of targets.
But that’s wrong-headed, misguided and fraught with peril. The prime causes of chronic black unemployment are corporate downsizing, outsourcing, the massive cuts in federal and state job skills training funds and programs, the reluctance and flat-out refusal of many employers to hire those with criminal records, and the sneaky but open racial discrimination by private employers.
None of that matters to the rabid black immigration reform foes. For now, they’re banking that the horror some blacks feel about illegal immigration will be enough to propel a few souls into the streets in Los Angeles on June 23. They hope they’ll be cheered on by many more who won’t march. No matter what happens, though, they’ve done a great job in further polarizing blacks and Latinos.
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