I had an interesting discussion today about whether creating a pathway to citizenship to 11 million immigrants who currently have no legal standing would threaten the already tenuous job prospects of African-Americans.
As the daughter of an immigrant, I have trouble seeing immigrants as “other.” I think forcing undocumented workers into the shadows while exploiting them for cheap labor is immoral. I think the Dream Act would go a long way to provide opportunities to young people who have been in the U.S. most of their lives. I think denying social services to undocumented immigrants costs us more in the long run.
On the other end of the spectrum, I think we should devote as much attention to improving the educational preparation of black American kids, particularly in the technology fields, as we do to advocating for H-1B visas for foreign workers in “specialty fields,” who are often subjected to a different kind of exploitation. They are often paid less then their homegrown counterparts.
Earlier this year, Jamelle Bouie wrote a piece in The American Prospect titled “How African Americans view immigration reform.” He cites research that suggests that immigration is an issue that divides blacks by class: Working-class African Americans are more likely to support restrictive immigration policies than middle-class blacks. Bouie asserts that Democrats might need to pay attention to this clash of classes to maintain their edge in states like Virginia and North Carolina. He also suggests that “if Republicans are feeling ambitious, this divide could form the basis for outreach to working-class blacks. Insofar that the GOP wants to cleave the Democratic coalition, immigration might offer a way to reach one group of working-class voters.”
Political cynics would love nothing more than to pit African Americans against immigrants and perhaps African Americans against each other.
But as Marian Hill wrote in The Grio:
“At first glance or thought, African-Americans may not inherently see themselves the product of immigration. The truth is, we are. Let’s not forget the roles and heritage of some of our historical figures in American history, such as Marcus Garvey, Harry Belafonte, Shirley Chisholm, Malcolm X, Rev. Theodore Gibson, Claude McKay, and Stokely Carmichael — all of whom were immigrants from the Caribbean. We must also remember that we cannot confront future political and legislative fights on our own without demonstrating solidarity with others who fight for equality, respect, and recognition as part of the American fabric.”