The Basis Of Black-Latino Unity Is Not Political (BEC, 07-24-2001)

Do you have the Gringo attitude regarding immigration reform legislation?

“Gringos” set the tone of debate recently exacerbating tensions between Blacks and Browns. They set the bar at “the back of the bus,” causing some of us to parrot: “African Americans struggle at the lower levels of the economic chain because unskilled illegal immigrants take their jobs and drive down pay.”


Actually, 80 percent of Black Americans have favorable views of Latino immigrants’ work ethic and family values. But, many Black professionals, academics and blue-collar workers are increasingly uneasy as the nation’s 40 million Latinos flex their growing political and economical clout.

Tensions started when Mexican President Vicente Fox said Mexican immigrants in the U.S. take jobs “that not even Blacks want to do.” This proved a mantra for the majority media, indicating that the comment “dissed” Blacks. The Nation of Islam’s Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan’s view was: “Why be so foolishly sensitive when somebody is telling the truth?”

To be accurate, it’s unclear how many Americans are really, truly displaced by the nation’s 11 million so-called “illegal aliens.” The tensions may be a “red herring” wrought by Anglos. The facts are: Immigrants in the U.S. predominately occupy jobs that cannot be outsourced by U.S. businesses seeking to compete in the global economy. As much as they may want to, companies cannot outsource jobs in restaurant, hotel, agriculture, construction or meatpacking industries the way they have other jobs that used to be the mainstay of the U.S. worker: auto, steel, shoes, garment, textile and electronics.

A huge wave of immigration that begun in the 1980s brought millions of foreign-born workers into the labor force, including eight million unauthorized migrants–five percent of the total work force. Illegal immigrants from Mexico account for about five percent of the nation’s 145 million workers. Generally, they are clustered in low-wage and low-skill occupations in businesses where employers frequently report difficulty in finding workers. In the farm industry, which accounts for only 0.5 percent of U.S jobs, undocumented workers make up nearly a quarter of the workforce. So-called illegal aliens account for 17 percent of workers in cleaning occupations and 14 percent of construction workers.

Economists agree that undocumented aliens reduce wages for the least skilled native-born workers, but most also say immigration benefits the economy overall by lowering prices for consumers, in a sort of Wal-Mart effect. Some studies suggest that the 1980s influx of immigrants boosted the average wage of U.S.-born workers by about two percent, partly by spurring additional capital investment.

Another mainstream mantra Blacks say is that they don’t like their tax money going to people here illegally. Unlike Europe, which attracts immigrants because of the public welfare benefits, immigrants come here to work and chase the American Dream. Economic evidence suggests that immigrants, legal and illegal, tend to give more than they take; and are here for work, not for the benefits.

Immigrants are an integral part of our economy. The ones that came over the past two decades spurred capital investment and expanded the economy. When immigrants come in, more business opportunities and firms are created. They don’t take away jobs from the native-born Americans because immigrant workers gravitate toward occupations largely different from jobs native-born workers seek. Immigrant labor makes a wide range of services more affordable and generally raises standards of living.

Black and Brown conflict is a ruse. If you find yourself in a situation when you’re afraid of being forced out of a job, or beaten out for a job, by a low-skilled, non-English speaking immigrant with nothing more than a sixth-grade education, then you have bigger worries than television is telling you.

Recent immigrants’ demonstrations are part of a tradition of freedom marches, launched by Blacks. Instead of following the Anglos’ lead on this issue, Blacks should align with a civil rights movement that has grown and literally and culturally, crossed borders. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Poor People’s March on Washington” started a movement that brought together issues of race and poverty. Shouldn’t we consider the immigrant rights marches part of that continuum?

(William Reed is president and CEO of Black Press International. Visit for more information.)