Labor

African American leaders have long called for tougher immigration laws

Frederick Douglass was just one of many African American leaders over the past 140 years to argue that lax immigration has harmed the employment opportunities of African Americans.

Frederick Douglass was just one of many African American leaders over the past 140 years to argue that lax immigration has harmed the employment opportunities of African Americans.

Taking a hard stance on illegal immigration will increase employment opportunities for unemployed African American workers. In 2014, the US Census Department and the Department of Labor reported that there were 8 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. working or looking for work, making up 5 percent of the civilian labor force. At the same time, there were over 31 million African Americans legally able to gain employment, more than 4 million of them unemployed – a 13 percent unemployment rate. Many of these people live in Philadelphia.

Black leaders such as W.E.B Du Bois, Frederick Douglass, Marcus Garvey and Booker T. Washington all spoke out against immigration during their time. They saw the effects it had on the African American worker, both in cities and in rural America. Jobs that were held by African Americans were being taken by European and Chinese immigrants, which created an unemployment cataclysm for Black Americans already facing intense racial and economic discrimination at the time.

During the second Industrial Revolution of the late 1800s and early 1900s, Black Americans fought back against pro-immigration legislation. In 1879, Frederick Douglass explained the negative role of Chinese immigration on the African American worker: "They would rather have laborers who would work for nothing; but as they cannot get the negro on these terms, they want Chinamen...The loss of the negro is to gain them the Chinese, and if the thing works well, abolition, in their opinion, will have proved itself to be another blessing in disguise."

Black leaders openly spoke out against European, Mexican and Chinese immigration. In 1895, Booker T. Washington, in one of his most famous speeches, discussed the issue of immigrant workers taking jobs from African Americans. Washington's “Atlanta Compromise Address” of 1895 targeted industrialists who were employing immigrant labor instead of American-born Blacks: “To those of you who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth….cast down your bucket where you are… we shall stand by you with a devotion that no foreigner can approach, ready to interlace our industrial, commercial, civil and religious life with yours.”

In 1928, the soon-to-be business manager of the NAACP, George Schuyler, stated the obvious on Mexican immigration: "If the million Mexicans who have entered the country have not displaced Negro workers, whom have they displaced?”

More recently, African American Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, who chaired the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform in the 1990s, took a stance for stiffer immigration policies that seems conservative by current standards: “The credibility of immigration policy can be measured by a simple yardstick: people who should get in, do get in; people who should not get in are kept out; and people who are judged deportable are required to leave.”

And in March of 2016, Peter N. Kirsanow, a member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, explained in a US Senate hearing that illegal immigration has a “disproportionately negative effect on the wages and employment levels of blacks, particularly black males." Progressives who claim to represent the interests of Black workers should take note: these have been the positions of our African American leaders for centuries. We have been engaged in a national debate on illegal immigration for years now. There is nothing that has been more harmful to the African American worker. Isn’t it about time for the effects of illegal immigration on the African American Worker to become part of the discussion? Isn’t it time for our elected African American lawmakers to stand up for their constituents?

James Williams is the Republican Ward Leader in the 50th, as well as the campaign manager for Republican DA candidate Beth Grossman.

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