Flamboyant arch black immigration foe Ted Hayes has repeatedly called illegal immigration the greatest threat to black America since slavery. This eye-catching, over-the-top, outrageous bit of hyperbole has set more tongues wagging than celebrity sex gossip. It will probably do more than that on June 23. It could start a riot. That's the day that Hayes and a handful of other black immigration opponents will march through a black neighborhood in Los Angeles trying to rally blacks to their anti-immigration banner. Immigration reform proponents have plastered the area with leaflets blasting the march and vow to confront the anti-immigration marchers.
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 momentary camera time with a press conference in Washington, D.C. 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 outraged over 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 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 enforcement. But the participants had made their point, and it was that there a few noted blacks that are willing to put their bodies and faces in front of a camera, and oppose immigration reform, and weren't scared at being branded bigots in the process.
Their Washington, D.C. flutter was the high water mark for the black immigration foes. With the death of the immigration reform bill in Congress, the group quickly vanished from the public's radarscope. However, when the Senate briefly resuscitated the bill in April, black immigration opponents got a new lease on life. The Los Angeles march gives 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 were 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 voted by big margins for the proposition that denied public services to undocumented immigrants. But nearly fifty percent of blacks also backed the measure.
Republican governor Pete Wilson shamelessly pandered to anti-immigrant hysteria and rode it to a reelection 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 total 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, which almost always is seen as Latino illegal immigrants, was put to the electoral test in Arizona with another ballot initiative. Proposition 200 mandated tough sanctions on employers for hiring illegal immigrants, and 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 vote by blacks on the anti-illegal immigration ballot measures and their antipathy to illegal immigration as measured by the polls flies in the fact of the staunch support that mainstream civil rights organizations and most of the Congressional Black Caucus have given to the passage of a comprehensive, liberal immigration reform law. It even contradicts the polls that showed during the great immigration debate last year that blacks by big margins backed liberal immigration reform.
Yet there was a kicker in those polls and that was the issue of jobs. Blacks expressed deep worry that they were slipping further behind in the battle for more jobs. And that's a legitimate fear. Blacks suffer the highest rates of unemployment of any group in America. The job crisis has had an especially devastating impact on young, marginal-skilled and educated black males. In the eternal hunt for scapegoats to dump blame for the job crisis on, illegal immigration is the softest of soft targets.
But that's wrong-headed, misguided, and fraught with peril. The prime cause of chronic black unemployment is corporate downsizing, and outsourcing, the massive cuts in federal and state job and skills training funds and programs, the reluctance and flat-out refusal of many employers to hire those with criminal records, and the sneaky and open racial discrimination by private employers.
None of that matters to the rabid black immigration reform foes, and for now they're banking that the horror some blacks have over illegal immigration will propel a few souls into the streets in Los Angeles on June 23. They hope that 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. That's the greatest threat of all.
New America Media Associate Editor Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press and Hispanic Economics New York) in English and Spanish will be out in October. earlofarihutchinson.blogspot.com