When It Comes to Immigration Reform, Don’t Forget Black Voters

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Black Americans are the most reliable Democratic voters, and yet the Democratic Party betrays their loyalty by neglecting the needs of Black voters, or worse, actively supporting policies that harm Black Americans. Illegal immigration is a prime example.

Whatever those in power do to Black Americans, they will soon do to everyone else. This is why we must call out the Democrats for their push to provide amnesty for the nation’s estimated—but almost certainly undercounted—11 million illegal immigrants and the trillions of dollars they support spending on those who enter the country illegally. Meanwhile, the majority of the homeless, the impoverished, the unemployed, and the evicted are Black Americans. This is an unforgivable betrayal.

In 1924, House Democrats voted 158-37 to drastically slash immigration. A. Philip Randolph, one of the most prominent Black labor and civil rights leaders of the day, praised the restrictions, explaining that too much immigration “over-floods the labor market, resulting in lowering the standard of living.”

As the flood of competing foreign workers slowed to a trickle, Black workers made gains. Frank Morris, the former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, noted that Black men’s wages quadrupled from 1940 to 1980, growing even faster than white wages.

In 1965, Congress changed immigration law to open opportunities for more immigrants from non-European countries to come to the United States. Immigration to the United States since 1965 has almost quadrupled.

This second “Great Wave” of immigration to America has done great harm to Black Americans, much as the flood of immigration from Europe following the Civil War did. According to a study by economists from Harvard and the University of Chicago, the influx of new immigrants between 1980 and 2000 accounts for as much as 60 percent of the decline in wages, 25 percent of the decline in employment rates, and 10 percent of the increase in incarceration rates among less-educated Blacks.

In the mid-1990s, Barbara Jordan—the first Southern Black woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives—chaired President Bill Clinton’s Commission on Immigration Reform. That commission recommended that the government slash legal immigration levels by a third in order to protect, in Jordan’s own words, the “most vulnerable parts of our labor force.”

JACUMBA HOT SPRINGS, CA – DECEMBER 14: Migrants attempting to cross in to the U.S. from Mexico are detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the border December 14, 2023 in Jacumba Hot Springs, California. Asylum seekers are stuck in makeshift camps in the extreme climate of the US-Mexico border. (Photo by Nick Ut/Getty Images)

President Clinton endorsed Jordan’s proposed reforms—but they were ultimately defeated afterwards by business groups. Since then, Democrats have sought to raise legal immigration levels and have supported amnesty for illegal aliens.

They say this policy is compassionate, but where is the compassion for Black Americans who are hurt the most by illegal immigration?

The often cited argument that illegal immigrants “do work that Americans will not do” is simply not supported by data. In my home state of South Carolina, a poultry plant was found to have employed 300 illegal immigrants in 2008. After the illegal immigrants were detained, those jobs immediately were filled by American workers, many of them Black Americans. This same chain of events has played out in Illinois, Mississippi, North Carolina, Georgia, and countless other states. Black Americans and working-class white Americans do these very same jobs that we are told Americans are no longer willing to do. We will do the jobs, but for a fair wage. Workers deserve fair wages and no corporation should be able to avoid paying them by importing cheap labor. Cheap labor is cheat labor.

Another matter that is not often discussed is anti-Black racism. While illegal immigration is not the primary source of the systemic racism that Black Americans have faced for centuries, many illegal immigrants benefit from the civil rights fought for by Black Americans, and yet are deeply anti-Black American. A 2006 Duke University study in North and South Carolina showed that nearly 60 percent of immigrants from Latin America living in those states illegally felt that Black Americans were not hard workers and were not trustworthy. A large proportion said they did not have anything in common with Black Americans. Only around 10 percent of white Americans reported such negative views of Black Americans.

There is another potential danger not being discussed in the media: the dilution of the Black vote. Throughout the nation, several municipalities have made efforts to allow illegal immigrants the right to vote. Black Americans are the main constituency of the Democratic Party and yet the party ignores us. If we do not get anything for our vote now as their main constituency, do you think we will see anything for our vote if the party is able to secure votes from millions of illegal immigrants? Corporations should not be able to import cheap labor to avoid paying a fair wage, and the Democrats should not be able to import new voters to avoid addressing the needs of Black Americans.

There’s no single solution to the economic problems plaguing Black Americans, especially in South Carolina’s left-behind communities. We need to use every tool in the kit. That means ensuring equal access to education. It means helping folks afford reliable transportation. It means reparations for unpaid debts. And it means stopping illegal immigration completely and reducing legal immigration to levels that work for American citizens, not just American corporations.

Gregg Marcel Dixon is a teacher, activist, and candidate for South Carolina’s Sixth US Congressional District.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.