Black caucus backs immigration bill, despite potential hit to black employment

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The Congressional Black Caucus is backing the Senate’s far-reaching immigration bill, which promises to double the inflow of low-skill immigrants who compete against low-skill African-Americans for jobs.

“It’s good for African-Americans, it’s good for Americans,” Rep. John Lewis told The Daily Caller as he left the White House after the caucus met with President Barack Obama on Tuesday.

“It’s good for African-Americans, and it’s good for the nation,” Rep. Hank Johnson, who also represents black constituents in Georgia, told TheDC.

TheDC asked Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge, the CBC’s chairwoman, if the caucus has asked Obama to pay a price in exchange for its support of the controversial immigration bill, which is one of Obama’s top 2013 priorities.

“We didn’t ask the president to pay a price on anything,” Fudge told TheDC.

The CBC’s passivity is “egregious political malpractice,” said Peter Kirsanow, a labor-lawyer and a member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

Many African-Americans oppose the proposed amnesty of 11 million immigrants which they see as threat to their jobs and wages, Kirsanow said. On talk-radio, “the number of calls that come in are overwhelming and they are stridently opposed,” he said.

“The folks on the ground get it… they see the adverse effects, and they don’t want it doubled by another immigration bill,” he said.

On July 15, numerous African-American leaders are expected to lead a Washington D.C. rally against the immigration bill. The event, dubbed “DC March for Jobs,” is being organized by the Black American Leadership Alliance.

More than twenty members of the 41-member black caucus met Tuesday with Obama at the White House.

“Every member had an opportunity to raise their issues, and the president addressed those which he could… all of us are pleased where we are,” Fudge told reporters outside the West Wing of the White House.

For example, members asked Obama to direct more federal funding to their districts, and objected to a recent Supreme Court curb on federal regulation of states’ voting rules, said Fudge.

“They discussed a range of topics including the economy, voting rights legislation, education, comprehensive immigration reform, youth employment, gun violence, and anti-poverty programs,” said a White House statement.

The president and members said little about the immigration issue, Fudge said.

“We did discuss immigration, but more to the degree that we want to be sure that the immigration bill — which they are saying is comprehensive — is in fact comprehensive, and that it includes people from the Caribbean and from Africa, which had heretofore been done by diversity visas,” she told TheDC.

Aiding foreign blacks is the caucus’ main priority in the immigration debate, she indicated.

“We want to be sure that the people we represent, those who come from underserved countries, poor countries, are included in the bill,” she said.

“That was the extent of our discussion about immigration,” she added.

When asked about immigration’s impact on African-American unemployment, Fudge talked about federal jobs programs.

The caucus asked Obama to “target funds to the communities of most need,” she said.

In 2009, the federal stimulus act directed some funding to poor districts via a “10/20/30” amendment pushed by South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, the top-ranking member of the caucus, who is the third-ranked Democrat in the House caucus. The amendment’s name comes from the funding formula, which directs federal funding to counties where 20 percent of the population has been under the federal poverty level for 30 years.

An undated statement on Clyburn’s website says that it “was responsible for funding 4,655 projects totaling nearly $1.7 billion in persistent poverty counties.”

“That’s the kind of targeted funding we ‘re talking about… it creates jobs dramatically,” Clyburn told reporters at the White House.

“The president was receptive to that formula,” Fudge added.

TheDC quizzed several other members of the caucus as they walked out of the White House.

“It’s not just low-skilled immigrants who will be coming in,” Johnson said. “Our nation will economically prosper as a result of the workers who are here now being legalized, paying taxes [and] employers paying penalties for not abiding by the immigration reform law.”

“I’m completely supportive of comprehensive immigration reform… [and] I’m not concerned about” the impact on jobs, said Lewis.

Clyburn told TheDC that the CBC members didn’t talk about what measures could be taken to shield African-Americans from job competition by new immigrants.

“No, we didn’t discus anything like that,” he said, adding “we’re trying to find a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million [Latino illegal immigrants] who are here.”

Clyburn also challenged forecasts that the bill would double immigration to 46 million over the next 20 years.

“We don’t accept that as a premise,” he said. “We don’t accept the fact that necessarily there’s going to be all these new people that you say.”

However, groups on rival sides of the debate say the bill will ensure the arrival or legalization of roughly 33 million people in the next decade.

A June report by the Congressional Budget Office predicted the bill would add 16 million to the population by 2033 and provide amnesty to 11 million illegal immigrants. The report also said these numbers would add to the current inflow of roughly 11 million immigrants per decade.

The black population of the United States is roughly 45 million.

The CBC’s solid support for the far-reaching bill is important, because it reduces the number of GOP legislators that the bill’s advocates must win over.

The solid support also illustrates the Democrats’ disciplined approach to the issue. In the Senate, no Democrats voted against the Senate bill in June, even though several Democratic senators had voted against a less ambitious bill in 2007, when the U.S. unemployment level was much lower.

For example, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders voted against the 2007 bill, and repeatedly criticized the 2013 bill as bad for American youths and workers, in language similar to that used by Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions. However, Sanders voted for the bill in exchange for an amendment that provides $1.5 billion in jobs programs.

Numerous studies say African-Americans have been hit hard by low-skill immigration, partly because many African-Americans are also low-skilled and compete for the same jobs as most immigrants.

Currently, less than half of young black men have full-time jobs.

The Senate bill passed late last month would double the current inflow of immigrants to roughly 46 million by 2033.

More than 80 percent of those working-age immigrants would be low-skilled, and most would compete against African-Americans for lower-skilled jobs in the retail, restaurant, janitorial, light manufacturing and construction sectors.

In February, Kirsanow and another member of the civil rights commission sent a letter to Obama asking him to address the bill’s impact on African-Americans.

“The obvious question is whether there are sufficient jobs in the low-skilled labor market for both African-Americans and illegal immigrants. The answer is no,” said the Feb. 12 letter.

The letter cited research showing how immigration has cut wages for low-skill workers.

“Julie Hotchkiss, a research economist and policy advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, estimated that ‘as a result of this growth in the share of undocumented workers, the annual earnings of the average documented worker in Georgia in 2007 were 2.9 percent ($960) lower than they were in 2000. . . . [A]nnual earnings for the average documented worker in the leisure and hospitality sector in 2007 were 9.1 percent ($1,520) lower than they were in 2000,’” said the letter.

Established African-American groups, such as the NAACP and the Urban League, have not challenged the pending bill. The groups’ leaders are part of the progressive movement, and are closely allied with Latino leaders who support the immigration bill.

The leadership of established African-American groups has tried to mollify ordinary African-Americans’ worries.

“I think many in the African-American community fear that by regularizing these undocumented workers, that to some degree, they’ll be displaced,” Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in February.

“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 [this] kind of immigration reform,” he told April Ryan, a White House reporter.

A February poll by the Center for Immigration Studies showed that 94 percent of African Americans would prefer that illegal immigrants return to their home countries, and that 71 percent believe there are enough Americans to do all the work available in the United States

The CBC’s refusal to shield African-American workers from immigration is a repudiation of the group’s core purpose, Kirsanow said. The caucus “was purportedly constituted to represent the interests of black constituents,” and it has the political power to help them, he told TheDC.

“The CBC wields clout just by virtue of the fact that they represent the Democratic Party’s most loyal constituency,” he said.

“But they’ll never use it” for their constituents, he said.

During the meeting with Obama, however, Fudge said she thanked Obama for giving two African-American politicians jobs in his cabinet.

“I thanked the president for [the appointments of] Anthony Foxx and for Mel Watt,” Fudge said.

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Neil Munro