Tuesday, April 24, 2007
African Americans, Immigrants Are Allies More Than Adversaries
New America Media, Commentary, Gerald Lenoir, Posted: Mar 21, 2007
EDITOR’S NOTE: African Americans may misunderstand the impact of immigrants on their livelihood, but there are greater reasons for them to realize why they’re really on the same side of the barricades, writes Gerald Lenoir, the coordinator of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) and a longtime antiracist activist. IMMIGRATION MATTERS regularly features the views of the nation's leading immigrant rights advocates.
OAKLAND, Calif. -- The media love to show images of a few African Americans demonstrating together with right-wing groups, such as the Minutemen, against “illegal immigration.”
With classic, blame-the-victim logic, these misguided individuals have ironically cast their lot with modern-day Ku Klux Klansmen. Last April, however, a group of African Americans and black immigrants came together in this city in support of immigrants and to present different view of black-immigrant relations.
“Black Alliance for Just Immigration was founded to support the demands of the immigrant rights movement and to engage African Americans in a dialogue about the underlying issues of race and economic status that frame U.S. immigration policy,” says co-founder the Rev. Phillip Lawson.
“African Americans, with our history of being economically exploited, marginalized and discriminated against, have much in common with people of color who migrate to the United States˜documented or undocumented,” Lawson adds, citing a long history of U.S. prejudice against immigrants of color from Latin America, Africa, Haiti, China and other regions, in favor of Western Europeans.
BAJI aims to organize a core group of African Americans prepared to oppose racism in all of its forms by actively forging coalitions with immigrant communities and organizations to build and sustain a new human rights movement that incorporates all social justice issues, including immigrant rights and civil rights.
There is basis for such coalitions. A public opinion poll conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts in April 2006 found that a large majority of African Americans feel that immigrants are hard-working (79%) and have strong family values (77%).
African Americans were more than twice as likely as whites (43% vs. 20%) to support public benefits for undocumented immigrants. Two-thirds of whites and 79% of African Americans said that the children of undocumented immigrants should be allowed to attend public schools.
Yet, there’s also basis for misunderstanding among communities. More African Americans (22%) than whites (14%) say that they, or a family member, have lost a job, or not been hired, because an employer hired an immigrant. In fact, 34% of African Americans, as compared to 25% of whites, say immigrants take jobs from U.S. citizens.
Despite the concerns of many African Americans, the high unemployment rate endemic to their communities is not the result of immigration. Rather, its root cause, like that of current mass migration trends, lies in the worldwide phenomenon called globalization.
Since the 1970s, globalization has meant the de-industrialization of the United States, with union jobs in manufacturing being moved to low-wage countries in Latin America and Asia. More recently, it has meant the corporate outsourcing of jobs in the high tech and service industries.
Add to that the historical employer biases against African Americans, the deterioration of the tax base due to white flight from inner cities, and the systematic public and private disinvestment in urban areas, and you have the formula for the devastation of black communities across the U.S.
A clear example of the bilateral and multilateral international policies of the United States that force migrants to risk their lives to come to the U.S. in search of a better life is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Ratified by the U.S. Congress in 1996, NAFTA forced Mexico to open up its markets to subsidized food crops from the United States.
As a result, 2.8 million Mexican farmers could not compete with cheap U.S. commodities and lost their land and their livelihood (according the New York Times). Many of those farmers and their dependents have migrated to the U.S., looking for employment.
Consequently, African Americans and immigrants of color are pitted against each other for the proverbial crumbs on the table. This competition is a result of the normal operation of an unjust economic system.
The U.S. is now attempting to impose a Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) on countries in the region. Similar, so-called free trade agreements are also being proposed or implemented in many countries in Africa, Asia, South America and the Caribbean.
The Black Alliance for Just Immigration believes that African Americans must join forces with immigrants to fight for economic and social justice for all.
Unite Here Local 11 has set an important precedent for our mutual struggle. In its latest settlement with the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, the 5,000-member, predominantly Latino and immigrant union, won a contract that obligates the hotel to increase wages, maintain an employee health plan and hire more African Americans. This victory is a model for the union’s negotiations with 25 other Los Angeles hotels.
"The tensions between African Americans and immigrants will not be lessened until you increase the quantity and quality of jobs for African Americans," says Steven Pitts, an economist at the University of California Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education. "It's good that one industry is taking baby steps in that direction.”
Pitts maintains that African Americans would benefit if undocumented immigrants were granted legal status, citing recent studies, which show that legalization would improve wages and working conditions for both, immigrant and non-immigrant workers.
The African American struggle for civil and economic rights has never been waged without allies. Conversely, the struggle of immigrants for recognition of their human rights cannot be won without friends and supporters. If they join together, the two movements can take giant strides toward victories now and for future generations