By Diana Hull, Ph.D., CAPS Board President
While Black History Month provides a slice of time to recount the contributions of this community and honor them, it’s also an opportunity to assess major current problems they face.
One the most important obstacles right now to decent wages and upward social mobility for blacks is the size of the illegal immigrant community, willing to toil for less, tolerate substandard working conditions and live with four other families in a two bedroom house.
The impact of illegal immigration on the black community is a topic rarely discussed. But a few weeks ago, Dr. Stephen Steinlight, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington D.C., included this neglected topic as part of a wide-ranging talk on immigration issues with Santa Barbara members of Californians for Population Stabilization.
“It doesn’t need to be said,” Dr. Steinlight remarked “that politically incorrect talk of existing intergroup rivalry that allegedly” pits one “community of color” against another, is rarely mentioned. Yet we have to agree that, nonetheless, it’s tremendously important to have any and all discussions that lead to an understanding of our history, and to acknowledge how pervasive inter-ethnic conflict has been in the past and how much of it continues today.
“The fact is that the rising immigrant tide always hits those that occupy the lowest rungs of the ladder hardest,” said Steinlight, “and a very large share of that group has always been and remains African-American.”
Mexico contributes both the largest number of illegal aliens and legal immigrants to the United States, and a study from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government found that Mexicans account for virtually all of the negative immigration impact on low-skilled American workers.
Another study from the National Research Council of the American Academy of Science reports that the cheap labor provided by illegal aliens and impoverished immigrants is responsible for a 44 percent decrease in wages from 1980 to 1994 for the poorest Americans. For each one percent increase in the immigrant share of workers who had not finished high school, the wages for native workers performing the same work dropped by at least seven percent.
Steinlight says this huge influx of Latinos, driven by demands for cheap labor, is devastating blacks economically. This statement is backed by information from the National Bureau of Economic Research showing that immigration lowers wages and workforce participation by black men significantly. This is in a “demographic” already battered; unemployment rates for black men between the ages of 19 and 40 in urban centers are more than 50 percent.
The much-repeated “line” is that illegal aliens are doing the jobs Americans won’t do. Of course what’s missing from that statement is “at the pay rate illegals will accept.”
To illustrate that point, Steinlight notes that last year after a raid at a Crider, Inc. facility in Stillmore, Georgia – which found that 75 percent of the Latino workers were illegal aliens – the poultry plant had to hire Americans for those jobs and they were easily filled predominantly by African-Americans. As a consequence, the hourly pay increased and the company started offering free transportation to work, as well as providing a dormitory and shower facilities.
This economic tug-of-war at the lowest rungs of the workforce is further charged with the racist views of recent immigrants toward native-born blacks. “Anger on the black street about Latino immigration is raw,” says Steinlight, who cites a variety of personal, anecdotal and survey-based data, including a multi-city survey of urban inequality, indicating that African-Americans see themselves in a battle with both Latinos and Asians for economic opportunity.
Ultimately, the results of mass immigration of poor and uneducated workers either showcase or bury – depending on where one chooses to look – what Steinlight calls America’s “unfinished business.” The United States continues to be challenged by inequality and poverty, with generations of black men lost to the criminal justice system, Steinlight points out. “Yet there is a moral obligation for American citizens to redress the situation of blacks and no commensurate one to Mexicans,” he adds.
So Dr. Steinlight recommends that we attend to “our unfinished business and erase this stain from the nation before we import massive new poverty in the form of uncontrolled immigration to further enrich the already rich and inflict further irreversible damage on black Americans.”
Dr. Diana Hull is the president of the Santa Barbara-based nonprofit, Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) www.capsweb.org, and can be reached at [email protected] or 805-564-6626.