Many Blacks Split with Civil Rights Leaders on Immigration

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, New America Media (San Francisco), May 13, 2010

The cameras homed in on the Reverend Al Sharpton as he led thousands to the Arizona state capitol building in Phoenix in an old fashioned, energetic, shouting, chanting, sign-carrying civil rights style march. The marchers demanded the repeal of Arizona’s hotly contested immigration law. Meanwhile, on the periphery of the march, a small band of counter protesters shouted, hooted, and hectored Sharpton and the other marchers. Their action drew almost no news mention. However, their counter-protest was different. They were mostly African American. {snip}

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In fact, there is a quiet but glaring disconnect between civil rights leaders’ outspoken support for liberal immigration reform measures and the unease, wariness and outright antipathy that many blacks feel toward illegal immigration. That disconnect is evident in blog posts, chat rooms, Web sites, letters to newspaper editors, and radio talk shows. Many blacks blame illegal immigrants for the poverty and job dislocation in black communities.

{snip} Far more blacks than whites agree that illegal immigrants take jobs away from blacks and claim to know someone who has lost a job because of illegal immigration.

The first big warning sign of black frustration with illegal immigration came during the battle over Proposition 187 in California in 1994. {snip} But nearly fifty percent of black voters supported it.

Then Republican Gov. Pete Wilson shamelessly pandered to anti-immigrant hysteria and rode it to a reelection victory. Wilson got nearly 20 percent of the black vote in that election–double what Republicans in California typically get from blacks. {snip} Blacks also gave substantial support to anti-bilingual ballot measures in California.

{snip} Despite a handful of lawsuits and settlements by blacks with major employers for alleged racial favoritism toward Hispanic workers, employers vehemently deny that they shun blacks, and maintain that blacks simply 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 that they filled in decades past. The pay is too low, the work too hard, and the indignities too great. On the other hand, 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.” That further deepens suspicion and resentment among blacks that illegal immigration is to blame for the economic misery of poor blacks.

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The group that shouted their pro-Arizona immigration law slogans at Sharpton was not much of a sideshow to the immigration march. But their message–that civil rights leaders say one thing about immigration while many blacks feel another way about it–is a sign that immigration draws a line in the sand even among blacks.

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