Democrats have outlined three defining challenges of our time: Income Inequality, Climate Change, and Civil Rights. If they were truly interested in addressing these three issues, they need to rethink their position on immigration. Immigration alone has an order of magnitude greater impact on these issues than any current or proposed government program or policy. Democrats need to have an honest discussion on immigration, analyze the facts and data, and adopt policies that lift up all Americans.
In the last of three blogs, I address how immigration affects the issue of civil rights.
Fifty years after enactment of the Civil Rights bill of 1964, far too many African Americans still lack the opportunities to succeed in the U.S. President Obama’s own initiatives highlight the disparities in education, employment, and involvement in the criminal justice system.
Peter Kirsanow, a U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner and former member of the National Labor Relations Board sent a letter to President Obama last year detailing how immigration has devastated the African American community. He cites research that shows immigration accounted for 40% of the decline of black employment from 1960-2000. Kirsanow notes African Americans and illegal immigrants compete for the same jobs and the labor surplus prevents wages from rising. In many industries, illegal immigrants have displaced African Americans. While 51% of native-born African Americans do not have an education beyond high school, nearly 76% of foreign-born Hispanics lack a post-secondary education. Sixty percent of African American teens are unemployed or underemployed, the highest of any group.
Outrage over police shootings sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. While there are many, many issues at play here, the sad fact is if those young men were at work those days, it is far less likely that they would have had their fatal encounters with the police. How many more young African American men in Ferguson, New York, and Baltimore would jump at the opportunity to work at a job currently held by an immigrant in their city? Despair wrought by chronic unemployment has a devastating impact on their lives, their families, and their communities compounding health, crime, and economic crises.
“We won’t be living up to our ideals when their parents are struggling with substance abuse, or are in prison, or unemployed, and when fathers are absent, and schools are substandard, and jobs are scarce and drugs are plentiful. We won’t get there when there are communities where a young man is less likely to end up in college than jail, or dead.”
Our cities’ schools struggle to provide African American children a foundational education. School districts across the country have seen a huge surge of immigrant children that drive costly support programs. Last year alone 74,000 unaccompanied minors came to the U.S. and the federal government dispersed them across the country. These children alone could fill 80 schools in cities across the U.S. Those were just the unaccompanied minors, which pale in comparison to the number of children of legal and illegal immigrants. In Chicago, over one third of students in 123 public schools are in English immersion programs. These programs can cost 50% more than educating an English-speaking student and consume valuable, limited resources, funding, and teachers’ attention. America has always welcomed immigrants, yet the record immigration levels have overwhelmed our ability to assimilate them into our schools and society. As we seek to improve the performance of our education system, we cannot afford to compound the burdens to our schools.
Reducing our immigration levels would provide more educational and job opportunities for African Americans and other minorities. They will see an increase in wages and experience and a decrease in crime and poverty.
So why do Democrats strongly advocate for high immigration levels and granting citizenship to immigrants here illegally? Why does President Obama issue controversial executive orders to refuse to deport those who violated our laws and borders? Why does Hillary Clinton pledge to double down on the President’s immigration efforts to grant citizenship to all immigrants here illegally and recruit millions more low-skilled immigrants? Is it just to win the Hispanic vote in elections?
At a time when far too many Americans are unemployed and far too many struggle to make ends meet, why are we adding over one million new immigrants and hundreds of thousands of guest workers every year? Why are we issuing millions of visas to the poorest, uneducated, least developed nations to compete with poor Americans? If we want to tackle climate change, why are we multiplying the carbon footprint of nearly 100 million people by 500 times? If we want to provide more opportunities for African Americans, why are we flooding our labor markets with unskilled labor?
We need to rethink our immigration policies and have a thoughtful discussion on how they can best strengthen our nation, economy, and future. We need to educate people on the numbers and impact of immigration, beyond the talking points by many politicians, 30-second debate responses, and cable news anchors. If we really want to make a difference on income inequality, climate change, and civil rights, the first step is to reduce our immigration levels.
The author of this guest opinion is a federal policy analyst.