African-American leaders protest Senate’s immigration bill

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
Font Size:

WASHINGTON – Wednesday, a coalition of black leaders slammed an effort by a D.C. progressive group to exclude them from the growing controversy over the immigration overhaul, which they say will put millions of blacks out of jobs.

The response came after Wade Henderson, who heads the D.C.-based Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, released an April 24 statement that denigrated the black leaders as unrepresentative and divisive.

“Divisive and baseless rhetoric has no place in a serious national conversation about immigration reform,” Henderson said.

The attack was included in a press release that called the African American Leadership Council a “fringe group … [whose] views are extreme outliers among African Americans and the general public.”

“Talk to 20 black folks who are not paid by the left … and you will find that brother Henderson is on the wrong side of an 80/20 [polling] issue,” replied Vernon Robinson, a former councilman from Winston-Salem in North Carolina, former U.S. Air Force officer, and member of the coalition who spoke at the National Press Club on Wednesday.

“The elite leadership is not the same as the black grassroots,” Frank Morris, the former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and a progressive opposed to the Senate bill.

“A political Judas will say anything in D.C. … they’re for their 30 pieces of silver and at the end of the day they’ve betrayed our community,” countered Kevin Martin, a member of Project 21, which is run by the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research think-tank.

The coalition held a press conference at the National Press Club to protest the Senate’s pending immigration bill.

The complex bill would provide a multi-stage amnesty to at least 11 million illegal immigrants and allow another 4.7 million foreigners now waiting for a visa into the country. The bill would also greatly increase today’s annual inflow of one million permanent immigrants and employer-sponsored agricultural workers, blue-collar workers and college-educated professionals.

Currently, African-American unemployment is at least 13 percent — or twice as high as white unemployment. But under different measures the rate can be far higher. For example, less than half of male high-school dropouts have full-time jobs. (ANALYSIS: In Obama’s economy, immigrants outpace native-born Americans)

Polls show that many or most Americans are alarmed about the economic impact of immigration, even as many also say they would accept amnesty in exchange for a guaranteed government clampdown on the hiring of illegal immigrants. However, some polls also show the few Americans believe the government will stop the hiring of illegals.

In February, Henderson acknowledged the fear among African-Americans, trying to assuage it. “I think many in the African-American community fear that by regularizing these undocumented workers, that to some degree, they’ll be displaced,” he told American Urban Radio Networks reporter April Ryan. “We know that is a fear … [but] by enforcing the law in ways that protect all workers, those workers in particular, and African-Americans workers most notably, will benefit from the kind of immigration reform,” he said.

Polls have not asked people whether they approve of the large-scale legal inflow allowed by the Senate bill.

The Senate’s bill is strongly supported by businesses, progressive groups and some on the center-right, led by Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

“Actual civil rights leaders view immigration reform as a defining civil and human rights issue of our time,” read Henderson’s April statement.

“We know that the nation’s immigration system is broken and that the status quo does not serve our economic or long-term interests … we are stronger when we focus on real solutions that work and on the values that unite us,” he said.

Some members of Congress’ Black Caucus have come out in support of the bill. Most, however, are staying quiet while the bill is debated in the Senate.

The coalition’s members said they represent many African-Americans, and that the bill will damage African-Americans’ economic prospects and communities.

“Defending the interest of our community does not imply hostility to others,” William Ownes, the president of the Coalition of African American Pastors, said at the press club event.

“I say black unemployment is double what it should be, and to bring in massive immigration is an injustice,” he said.

“The only time there is equal opportunity [for blacks] is when there is a tight labor market,” the liberal Morris added.

The coalition’s leaders urged African-Americans to protest the bill, and to press African-American legislators in Congress to vote against the measure.

From 1998 to 2000, wages for low-skill workers rose because employers had to compete in the hiring market. Since then, the inflow of immigrants has increased, and wages have remained flat.

If the Senate’s bill passes, the number of unemployed workers will increase and blacks “will never see in their lifetime the kind of tight labor market that will provide opportunities for our less skilled and less educated,” Morris said.