Minnesotans For Sustainability©
Sustainable: A society that balances the environment, other life forms, and human interactions over an indefinite time period.
The Case Against Immigration:
On the Backs of Black Americans: The Present*
The log cabin where Frederick Douglass was born is gone ―as is the plantation house. But many of the descendants of the slaves who once worked the region's fertile soil remain in the area. And so does an economic system that sometimes seems stacked against a Black worker ever getting ahead.
"The economic situation isn't too good for Blacks around here," says a White neighbor across the road from the former plantation. He notes that local Black residents now face the additional challenge of job competition from immigrants. What has happened to Black workers near Douglass's birthplace is symptomatic of the negative effects of recent immigration on lower-skilled Black Americans throughout the country.
At the corner of the plantation, two Black residents fishing from the bank of Tuckahoe Creek are well acquainted with the local job market and the increasing influence of foreign workers. One man is a cook. The other, Robert, works at a poultry-processing plant. After ten years there, he earns a wage that keeps him just a step ahead of poverty. "I think the company must get something out of bringing in immigrants," Robert says. "They put a lot of effort in recruiting."
As it turns out, the road from where Douglass lived in slavery runs directly to one of America's fastest-growing low-wage industries. Just two miles down the Blacktop to the west is Cordova, Maryland ―a small town with a big poultry processing plant.
One would think that the popularity of poultry these days and the great profitability of the industry would pave a road to improved wages and working conditions for the industry's workers. One of every sixteen new industrial jobs in America in recent years has been in poultry processing. Employment is booming in the "poultry crescent" that extends from Maryland, down through Georgia and Alabama, and swinging back up to northern Arkansas and Texas. While employment has declined by one-third in the slaughterhouses for beef, pork, and lamb, it has doubled over the last 15 years to more than 150,000 jobs in poultry plants.1
America's growing appetite for White meat, however, has not been translated into improvements for Black workers, who predominate in the poultry plants that traditionally have been located in southern rural areas with large Black populations. Despite tightened rural labor markets around the plants and increasing demand for the products, real wages (adjusted for inflation) have been falling at the Cordova plant and throughout the industry.
Rather than improve wages, the poultry industry is turning to foreign workers. Robert says the major changes he has seen during his ten years at the Cordova plant have been the hiring of foreign workers and the speeding up of the line, and the two are not unrelated. Ten years ago, "I don't think there were more than maybe ten immigrants in the whole plant." Now, almost half the five hundred workers are foreign, he says. "Parts of the plant are entirely Spanish-speaking. Many of the line leaders speak Spanish."
A spokeswoman for the Cordova plant later confirms that about half the employees are immigrants and that nearly all the native workers are Black.
It isn't that the area around the Cordova plant doesn't have people who could fill those jobs. A lot of local residents are without jobs or have just part-time jobs, says the cook as he casts again into Tuckahoe Creek. So why is the company bringing in foreign workers? Robert and the cook answer in unison, "Because they'll work cheaper." The cook used to work at the poultry plant, "but I got out of it." He wanted to work where he didn't have competition from the immigrants, and they as yet haven't moved into the restaurant jobs of this largely rural county.
As has been true ever since Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery and since the Civil War ended it nationally, a renewal of high immigration has once again blocked the road to middle-class security for many Black workers, and has detoured them back into a morass of low wages and dismal expectations.
The anthropology team at East Carolina University has turned up some disturbing evidence from the bottom of the economic pecking order. It appears that Congress through its immigration policies has provided poultry companies with the means not only to avoid improving wages but also to begin replacing their Black American workers.
The team, led by anthropologist David Griffith, studied poultry plants throughout the "poultry crescent." Team members discovered that managers often were explicit in their desire to hire immigrants to replace their "sorry Black workers."
"The White and Black work ethic is sinking," one plant manager said, explaining why he prefers to hire Latin American and Asian immigrants. "Koreans have an excellent work ethic," another manager said. "We have problems with Blacks ―30 to 40 percent do not care if they work or not." Repeatedly, the team members heard managers berate their "lazy" Black workers and extol immigrant workers. An excellent work ethic would imply that a worker is dependable and would stick with a job. But the immigrants often don't last a year on the job. Many employers don't seem to hold that against them because there always is a fresh supply of compliant foreign workers to take their place at the same wages and working conditions, or lower.
Immigrant networking can change a workplace almost overnight. Each new foreign worker sends the word out to friends and relatives that a foothold has been gained in a plant. In just six months at one plant, Blacks in the workforce dropped from 65 to 49 percent, while Hispanics and Asians doubled from 20 to 40 percent.
"If anyone quits, they won't get their jobs back," said Madge, a forty-two-year-old Black worker. Black and White American workers long have moved in and out of poultry plant jobs, in part to recuperate from the stressful and physically demanding conditions. Poultry processing has the third worst record for cumulative trauma injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. But the hiring of immigrants is undermining the native workers' job strategies. Madge has had friends who quit, but when they came back to start again, Mexicans had their jobs.
Many plant managers are eager to replace White Americans, too, but Black workers bear the biggest displacement burden. Not only do Blacks lose their jobs, but the immigrants are more likely to move into their neighborhoods and displace them in their social and cultural spaces.
Because they know the company has replacements in waiting, American workers are less likely to complain about working conditions. So market pressures that otherwise would be brought to bear to force improved working conditions are artificially suppressed. As a result, injuries are so pervasive in the poultry plants that the anthropology team found that "nearly all workers we interviewed mentioned swollen hands, cuts, slips and the high incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome . . . ."
John, a Black nineteen-year-old, said he believed the influx of immigrants into his plant is keeping his wages down. But that is sort of the American way, he said, fairly accurately summarizing U.S. immigration history.
The parallels between the last thirty years and the thirty years after the Civil War are uncanny. Both the Civil War's great Black emancipation in the 1860s and the Civil Rights Act's great Black enfranchisement in the 1960s raised high expectations among Black citizens for improved economic possibilities. But in both centuries, immigration was allowed to run at such a high level in the eighties and nineties that Black progress was stopped and many Black Americans saw their economic situation deteriorate.
It isn't that Congress has not been warned of what it is doing to American Blacks with its immigration policy.
On 13 March 1990, for example, Frank Morris went to the U.S. House of Representatives as something of a latter-day Booker T. Washington. He used no "cast down yourbucket" oratory, but his message was the same. Morris, the dean of graduate studies at Morgan State University and a former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, beseeched Congress to look at what immigration already had done to the Black population:
It is clear that America's Black population is bearing a disproportionate share of immigrants' competition for jobs, housing and social services .... There is little basis for repeated assurances that African Americans have not been harmed by heavy immigration of the less-skilled during the past two decades. Many of the immigrants compete directly with Blacks in the same labor markets and occupations and have become substitutes for Black workers more often than they have become complements. Studies claiming to show insignificant change in rates of African-American unemployment or labor force participation fail to take into account employment opportunities closed to Black Americans who might otherwise migrate to metropolitan labor markets increasingly impacted by immigration. The pervasive effects of ethnic-network recruiting and the spread of non-English languages in the workplace have, in effect, locked many Blacks out of occupations where they once predominated.2
Morris urged the members of Congress to "resist impulses" to use immigrants to "impede or delay the working of natural labor market forces" which, without immigrants, would stir employers to offer Black citizens, earlier immigrants, and handicapped Americans "a rare opportunity to gain training, improve their bargaining power, and better their wages, conditions and employment prospects."
Congress responded by passing the 1990 Immigration Act, which greatly increased immigration over a level that already was larger than during the Great Wave.
Five years later, in May 1995, Morris tried again on the Senate side. He said studies are clear that African Americans always do best during times of tight labor markets. Any federal program that loosens labor markets is a program against the interests of Blacks. "Immigration is not the cause of all of the problems, but it has made the situation much worse . . . and places us at a great disadvantage," he maintained.3
Congressional leaders this time are proposing cuts, but only back to the high 1965-90 level that had led to all the damage Morris decried in his 1990 testimony.
A glance around the country suggests that these levels of immigration are harming the "failed Black third" and, to a lesser extent, other African Americans in four broad ways:
· Lengthening the hiring line and moving Blacks to the back.
· Limiting hiring to immigrants' contacts through ethnic networking.
· Allowing employers to substitute immigrants for Black Americans in affirmative action programs.
African Americans' special relationship as the historic minority population in a
predominantly bi-racial nation.
The extraordinary influx of foreign workers affected Blacks throughout California's economy. The number of Black hotel maids and housemen in California dropped 30 percent during the 1980s while the number of immigrants with those jobs rose 166 percent. The 1990 Census also found that immigrants replaced native-born Americans in the occupations of garment sewers, restaurant waiters, and busboys, hospital nursing assistants and orderlies. Blacks "have been squeezed into a smaller segment of the economy," says Roger Waldinger, a UCLA sociologist.4
Such results appear to occur for two primary reasons. First, immigrants often can outcompete Black citizens ―and other Americans― in the job market because of their lower Third World expectations. They often can live on lower wages because their living costs are so much less than for native-born Americans who have developed an intolerance for crowded, multifamily households with few amenities and recreation. Carter G. Woodson remarked on that trait in his exploration of the effect of Mexican immigration in earlier decades. Blacks then complained that the Mexicans took their jobs by offering to work for lower pay while living with their families, "boarded up in Fords like so many cattle en route to the cotton fields."5
Second, American employers in general always have put Blacks at the back of the hiring line, preferring virtually all other nationalities and ethnicities. Harvard's Ronald F. Ferguson addressed this phenomenon for the National Academy of Sciences: "If employers hire from the front of the queue and if Blacks are disproportionately at the back ―behind immigrants and native-born members of other racial groups― then Blacks will suffer the greatest deterioration in employment when the number of immigrants grows."6 Antonio McDaniel of the University of Pennsylvania said Blacks may be forced to the back of the line because their race is considered the most different from that of the American majority. He noted strong support among sociologists for the proposition that all humans have natural proclivities for attachments to their own race.7
When the hiring line is short ―and especially if it is shorter than the number of jobs to be filled― the racial proclivity of the White majority is less harmful to Black Americans. By bringing in additional immigrants, Congress lengthens the hiring line and almost assuredly moves Blacks farther from the front. Professor Ferguson indicated that the propensity for Blacks since 1973 to occupy less lucrative occupations and to work in industries that offered lower pay is at least partly due to Congress filling the front of the hiring line with so many new immigrants.
That certainly could be seen in the janitorial industry in Los Angeles in the 1980s. Some commentators, both White and Black, have taken somewhat of a "let them eat cake" attitude about these types of jobs, suggesting that it is okay for Blacks to lose lower-skilled jobs because that means they can aspire to higher-level work. But those jobs play an important entry-level, "foot-in-the-door" function, providing experience to new workers so they can move on up the ladder. These first stepping-stone jobs are especially important to the young Black men who in recent years have been substantially unemployed. Unfortunately, in industry after industry, such jobs have been denied the young Black workers. As the immigrant gets the stepping-stone advantage, the American remains unemployed.
Janitorial work by the early 1980s was far more than a stepping stone, however. It had become a great middle-class occupation in many cities. Since World War II, the janitors for downtown Los Angeles office buildings had won excellent wages and working conditions through their union, according to a U.S. General Accounting Office study. The ability to deliver credible threats to strike had played an important role in that success.8
But the federal program that brought hundreds of thousands of foreign workers into the country each year changed that. Congress inadvertently had provided some aggressive non-union janitorial firms the opportunity to disrupt or ruin the economic lives of the downtown janitors, about half of whom were Black. The non-union firms hired immigrants at half the wages and fairly quickly underbid the unionized firms, taking over the office building contracts. Real wages have dropped further since then.
From an estimated 2,500 Black janitors earning wages equivalent to around $18 an hour (1995 value), only 600 were left in their jobs by 1985, with just 100 of them still earning union wages.
Having helped drive the Black Americans out of those good jobs, the immigrants soon found that it was hard to raise families on the pitifully low wages they had accepted. In October 1991, for example, Jose Domingo Diaz stood on Rodeo Drive holding a large sign: "Janitors are Down & Out in Beverly Hills." He and other non-union janitors, complaining about having no medical or health care, carried out a protest march in which they approached store clerks and asked what they could afford in the stores on $4.25-an-hour wages.
At one time, Blacks commonly could be found as waiters through out the hotels of Washington, D.C. But The Washington Post noticed in 1993 that the nicer the restaurant, the slighter the chance that the waiter would be Black, the positions having been filled mostly by immigrants. In Washington, long a majority Black city, it has become increasingly difficult to find a native-born Black worker on construction sites, in the parking garages, in janitorial firms, or in the taxi cabs. Congress has filled the nation's capital with foreign workers, while conditions of unemployment for lowskilled young Black men have helped spawn one of the most violent cultures in the nation.
Anthropologist Katherine S. Newman of Columbia University led a research team in a study of the inner-city labor market of New York City. What they found among native Black residents was a desperate search for jobs at any level and any price ―a search that belied many negative stereotypes that prevail against them. In the fast-food industry with jobs offered at $4.25 an hour, there were fourteen times more people looking for jobs as there were job openings during the five-month study period. When the university researchers contacted the rejected job seekers a year later, 73 percent of them still did not have a job, even though they had "continued to pound the pavement. There simply were not enough jobs to go around." Of the Black residents who got jobs at the fast-food restaurants, 58 percent had a high school diploma, and most of the rest were still enrolled in school.9
York City officials continue to defend
bringing more foreign workers to add to the competition in such a brutal job
market. But it isn't even a level playing field, Professor Newman discovered.
New York employers prefer immigrants over natives. During the study
period, Newman found that even in Harlem, which is overwhelmingly populated by
Black residents, low-wage employers hired 38 percent of Latino and Asian
applicants but only 13.6 percent of African-American applicants.
The changeover has occurred quickly in the seafood industry in North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland. In 1989, the workers were predominantly African-American women, as had been the case for decades. That changed completely due to the actions of one woman whose family owned four plants in Virginia and was having trouble attracting workers through the usual wages and recruitment. The Virginia Employment Commission told her how to secure foreign workers. With the help of the state government, the woman went to Mexico and gained the services of a labor contractor. Another labor contractor, who had dinner with the Virginia woman and was excited to learn of the possibility of gaining a foothold in that market, began to contact seafood plants up and down the Atlantic Coast, offering the services of Mexican girls.l0
Within five years, the workforce of seafood plants in North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland had changed from being predominantly African-American to mainly teenage girls and young women from Mexico!
A study for the West Virginia state government in 1994 found the same phenomenon at worksites all over the country where foreign workers had gotten a foothold. Partly because immigrants are less likely to complain than natives, employers are happy to depend on the immigrants to recruit further employees. Businesses cease to advertise jobs. Natives don't hear about openings as they are announced through word of mouth of the foreign workers in their local community and also across the country and even into other countries."
This process is even stronger in firms owned by immigrants. Take Korean firms, for example. Although 25 percent of New York's population is Black, only 5 percent of the employees at Korean-owned stores are Black, according to studies by Pyong Gap Min, a sociologist at Queen's College who is Korean-American. Even in Black neighborhoods, he found, Korean stores hire more Hispanics than Blacks. The majority of owners don't believe Blacks are as intelligent or honest as others, Min says. "They haven't met middle-class Blacks, so it is easy to generalize.”12
Researchers at UCLA discovered that only 2 percent of Korean businesses hire Blacks in Los Angeles ―which has a 17 percent Black population. But 17 percent of them hire Hispanics.
Jonathan Kaufman's report in the Wall Street Journal described how there is a kind of "unwritten law" that immigrant businesses don't hire Blacks. He found young Black men who sought jobs at dozens of immigrant businesses without success. Even Black immigrants don't like to hire Black Americans, the Harvard sociologist Mary Waters learned.
The difficulty Black urbanites have in obtaining jobs fuels the image of them as lazy and not wanting to work when actually they are competing fiercely to get any kind of job. At a single McDonald's in Harlem, some three hundred people a month ―most of them Black― seek jobs at $4.25 an hour.
Black job seekers find more and more frustration as a larger percentage of the jobs are controlled by immigrants, either as owners, managers, or shift chiefs. An estimated one of every four low-wage jobs in New York City and Los Angeles is in an immigrant firm.
Thanks to ethnic hiring networks and the growing numbers of immigrant-owned small businesses, "there are tens of thousands of jobs in New York City for which the native-born are not candidates," writes Elizabeth Bogan in her book, Immigration in New York.13
Plathel Benjamin, a Black columnist for the New York Daily News, got firsthand experience in the power of ethnic networking during seven years trying to work at construction sites around the city. On one project after another, he found that very few Black Americans could get on the payroll because most of the jobs were filled by immigrants. Even though most of the projects were huge, multiyear efforts involving large sums of public money, immigrants clearly had priority over Black New Yorkers. He managed to get into one public painting project, which he discovered had been converted through ethnic networking to be used almost exclusively to hire Russian Jews as they arrived into the country. A lot of them weren't painters and had to be trained, but when the work slowed down a little, they were kept on and the few Blacks on the job were laid off. On another large project, there were only two Black workers-Benjamin and a Black immigrant.
Most of the other painters were White Portuguese immigrants who helped the contractor meet his affirmative action requirements. When he went to the hiring office for a project at a public hospital, Benjamin couldn't find anybody who spoke English. After looking into the operation further, he found that the man who had won the paint contract had gone back to his home village in Greece and hired his whole crew there.
final year in the construction business, Benjamin landed a lucrative job as a
laborer on a project that he expected to last two or three years. A lot of
public money was involved, and promises had been made to hire construction
workers from the community. Benjamin arrived at work and found that his
Irish-American foreman had filled most of his crew with Irish immigrants "right
off the boat.
Black Americans are underrepresented by more than half in Southern California's rapidly growing electronics industry, which has a large number of immigrant firms. Hispanics, on the other hand, are hired at about their proportion of the population, and Asians are hired at twice their proportion. David Sun, a Chinese immigrant, told the Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Kaufman that his technology firm had only a handful of Blacks among its 370 employees. Charles Woo, owner of a Los Angeles wholesale toy business, said Blacks have a negative image and don't mix well with workers of other backgrounds.
Supposedly, it is illegal to limit hiring to one ethnic group, especially when it bars African Americans. When Blacks are shut out of businesses by White workers, they have easy recourse to the courts. But redress is far more difficult when foreign workers are involved. A Korean-owned janitorial company in Chicago kept Blacks from employment by hiring only Koreans. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission took the company to court but lost in the federal Court of Appeals. According to the ruling, it isn't discrimination if Blacks are blocked from jobs because of word-of-mouth advertising through immigrant networks.14
sociologist Roger Waldinger studied the hotel and restaurant industries in Los
Angeles and hotels in New York and Philadelphia. Employers complained about
native Blacks' high expectations of benefits and working conditions and said
they preferred to hire immigrants. Once a crew becomes comprised primarily of
immigrants, it is likely to stay that way, with Blacks effectively barred from
those jobs. In such cases, Blacks don't get much help from federal
anti-discrimination programs, says George La Noue, the director of the policy
sciences program at the University of Maryland Graduate School: "Enforcement
agencies are more likely to take on an all-White workforce than an all-Hispanic
one. It's a matter of political will."15
Ironically, programs of affirmative action ―meant to compensate for centuries of legalized discrimination against Blacks― now are being used by employers to avoid hiring Blacks. This can happen because an immigrant who first set foot in the United States yesterday is considered to have exactly the same claim for redress as the descendants of slavery.
A former director of an employment agency for Cambodian refugees in Chicago, for example, said he was surprised how often companies would tell him directly, "We want to phase out our Blacks and bring in Asians. It keeps us clear in EEO [the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] and gets us better workers.”16
Affirmative action has been turned on its head by immigration so that it sometimes hurts the very people it was designed to help. The policy was begun under the Johnson administration in the 1960s to improve Black participation in some of the more desirable areas of the economy where Black Americans previously had trouble entering. It was never intended for immigrants. Its impetus was not concern for something called "ethnic minorities;" its impetus was concern for Black Americans. If it were not for the nation's regret for the legacy to Black Americans of two hundred years of slavery and one hundred more years of racial caste segregation, there never would have been anything like affirmative action policy in this country.
But President Nixon's Labor Department significantly watered down affirmative action as a tool to redress the fingering effects of slavery, racial apartheid laws in the South, and immigrant unions' closed hiring halls. In his study, Affirmative Action for Immigrants: The Entitlement Nobody Wanted, James S. Robb noted that Nixon's Labor Department "in effect created several new minority groups out of whole cloth. Persons who formerly might have thought of themselves as Mexican-American, Cuban-American, or Brazilian-American, now discovered they belonged to a single minority, ‘Hispanics.’" Now, Hispanics and Asian-Americans could benefit from the program that had been intended for the descendants of slavery.17
The benefit of affirmative action for Blacks became less and less as it was expanded to include a larger and larger percentage of people living in America. Cincinnati businessman William A. Cargile went to court based on the belief that, as Robb expressed it, "every place made at the affirmative action table for a new group must necessarily result in less room for all the others." At issue for Cargile was a state program that reserved 5 percent of construction projects and 15 percent of goods and services contracts for minority-owned businesses. As a Black owner of a business, Cargile had benefited from the program but found it more difficult to win contracts as more ethnic groups were added to the preferential program. When Ohio governor George V. Voinovich opened up minority set-aside contracts to Asian-Indians, Cargile decided inclusiveness had broadened to a ridiculous degree. Of all ethnic groups in the United States, Asian-Indians ranked second highest in terms of income and education (Whites ranked sixth, and Blacks ranked tenth). Cargile couldn't figure out what historic racial grievances these recently arrived immigrants could make.
Cargile filed suit, saying Indian immigrants were getting contracts that should have gone to Black Americans. State attorney general Lee Fisher ruled that the inclusion of Asian-Indians was improper and ordered sixty-four Asian-Indian companies decertified for the minority contracts. But Judge Tommy L. Thompson ruled the Asian-Indians had to be given all privileges of Blacks under affirmative action because they are "Orientals," one of four minority groups recognized by the state.
In Washington, D.C., during the late 1980s, a construction company owned by a Portuguese immigrant was the biggest beneficiary of minority set-aside contracts. Thus, millions of dollars intended primarily to give a boost to native Black-owned businesses went to a White European. In South Florida, a couple of White Cuban brothers worth around $500 million have routinely won contracts that were set aside for minority firms.
Jews from Mexico can be considered Hispanic, and English transplants to Hong Kong can pass themselves off as Asian/Pacific Islander. Some Arab-American activists have been lobbying for minority status since they don't qualify under the Black, Oriental, Hispanic, or Native American categories.
Compensatory actions for Black slavery benefit a wide spectrum of people. Ed Fernandez, an official at the Census Bureau, said his White European-American sons are open to advantages in college by identifying themselves (as is legally allowed) as Hispanic, even though his own ancestors came from Spain and his wife is a Spanish immigrant.
Colleges and universities with poor track records in admitting native-born Black Americans have been notorious in disguising such records by packing their "minority" enrollment figures with foreign-born students who then are labeled Black, Asian-American, or Hispanic.
The same distortion can be found in colleges' claims about the hiring of "minorities" for faculty positions. The University of Michigan, for example, boasted that it had made great progress in boosting its minority faculty numbers. But the faculty senate discovered that 18.8 percent of the "Black" faculty weren't American minorities; rather, they were foreign-born. And 23.3 percent of the "Hispanics" and 56.1 percent of the "Asian-Americans" were not U.S. citizens, either.
In 1993, some leaders at Stanford University grew uneasy with the charade that is so common at American universities. They had a program that was intended to boost the faculty presence of Blacks, Mexican-Americans, and Native Americans, who were seriously underrepresented. The administration felt native minority students of those three backgrounds might perform better if they had more role models on the faculty. As an incentive, the administration promised that for every two "minority" teachers hired, a department would be given the money for an extra faculty member. By 1993, however, the administration realized that more than half of the "minority" teachers who had been hired weren't American minorities at all; they were foreign-born, primarily from Asia. "Foreign-born and foreign-educated faculty members may not be as effective as role models for minority undergraduates," an internal report stated. The Stanford administration decided to exclude non-citizens from their affirmative action program. The outcry from immigration advocacy groups was so loud, however, that the plan was dropped. So Stanford continues to provide subsidies to departments for hiring foreign teachers instead of Americans.
As the faculties of universities increasingly are filled with foreign-born teachers, the already substantial preference for foreign graduate students increases. A 1990 survey by the National Research Council estimated that Black Americans had to finance 63 percent of their doctoral studies from their own money, while foreign students had to come up with only 14 percent. The biggest reason for the difference was that the universities provided more than twice as much financial assistance to each foreign student as to each Black American.
Behind most schools' records of minority enrollment lies a revealing story. Of all the "Blacks" who received science doctorates in 1993, for example, the majority were foreign-born. The same was true of "Hispanics." And ten times more doctorates were awarded to noncitizen Asians than to actual Asian-Americans!
Throughout the American economy, affirmative action has become a tool "that greases the displacement of Blacks by immigrants," according to Jonathan Tilove. Immigration is reversing affirmative action's underlying mission to help Black people, Tilove wrote for the Newhouse Newspapers chain.
In a landmark series of articles in late 1993, Tilove revealed how employers are able to use immigrants to subvert the purpose of Johnson's executive order on affirmative action in 1965. Legally, they are not supposed to do it, but many employers meet their minority hiring targets by employing immigrants instead of Black Americans.
A pharmaceutical company which had shown a very favorable increase in minority hiring did so primarily by hiring Pakistani, Indian, and Vietnamese workers. William Yilberg, a former Labor Department solicitor, commented: "A lot of these people are easy to hire. They're trained, they're educated, they're hardworking, and you get a bonus. Not only are they people who you would have hired anyway, but they are characterized as minorities." By filling minority slots, the business lessens pressures to hire Black Americans.
The use of immigrants to shed Blacks from the workforce or to avoid hiring them does not just occur in a few isolated incidents. Tilove said expert analysis suggests that "employers might be laying off Blacks while retaining or hiring other minorities to meet their affirmative action goals."18 That was made rather clear in 1993 when a major study by the Wall Street Journal analyzed federal EEOC records during the 1990-91 recession. Reporter Rochelle Sharpe discovered something astounding: At all the nation's companies that have to report to the EEOC, there was no net loss of employment during the recession for Hispanics and Asians.
But there were plenty of losses for the descendants of slavery. While Asians during the recession gained a net of 55,104 jobs at those firms reporting to the EEOC and Hispanics gained a net of 60,040 jobs, Blacks lost a net of 59,479 jobs. Mid-size and big businesses increased their employment of Asians in thirty-nine states while they cut their employment of Blacks in thirty-six states. Blacks suffered their worst losses in the states with the highest immigration: Florida, Illinois, New York, California. Only in Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana, where immigration is minimal, did the employment of Blacks increase significantly.19
Some leaders of various ethnic groups have made the claim that they are as deserving as Blacks for affirmative action because they have their own histories of discrimination in this country. Their arguments fail on at least two counts. First, very small percentages of those ethnic populations can trace their American roots back before the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s, let alone to the time of the most egregious of stated slights, such as actions against the Chinese in the last century and the U.S. conquest of the Southwest in 1848. More importantly, only one American ethnic group has endured anything like the breadth and longevity of state-endorsed mistreatment of Black Americans. As the National Academy of Sciences put it, "the case of Black Americans is unique ―in its history of slavery and of extreme segregation, exclusion and discrimination."
only other group that can lay claim for redress similar to that of Black
Americans is the descendants of the indigenous peoples of the land. Not only did
the invasion of European settlers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
kill large numbers of Indians, primarily through disease, but it drove the
eastern tribes off their land. Native Americans, like Blacks, have a long
history of coming out on the losing end during periods of mass immigration.
After the Civil War, nearly all U.S. civilian and military officials operated
under the assumption that the perhaps quarter of a million population remaining
in the West would have to "surrender most of their land and cease to be
Indians," according to Eric Foner.20 The massive importation of European
settlers was an important tool in achieving those goals. Without them, the
settling of the West would have been much slower, giving Native Americans more
time to adjust and perhaps even to persuade the American people to honor earlier
treaties. Mass immigration has harmed Native Americans in the job market much as
it has Blacks. J. F. Moser reported that in 1899, for example, Indians who
worked in the fish canneries of Alaska tried to use the lack of labor in the
area to gain better wages and conditions. Managers responded by importing
Chinese workers to replace them.21
It may be helpful to look at this phenomenon through the eyes of another special minority in another country.
In the two islands of New Zealand, the Maori have been the historic minority since the land was colonized by the British and established as a country in 1840. Their situation today is not greatly unlike that of Blacks in the United States. The Maori share a long history with the European majority in their country and have enjoyed a certain special place in society because of obligations incurred during that history. That is changing rapidly because the New Zealand business community persuaded the government to increase immigration considerably as a way to promote economic growth and provide laborers.
The Maori people, with unemployment as high as 50 percent in some communities, oppose the new immigration, according to Ranginui J. Walker, a professor at the University of Auckland: "The government needs to demonstrate that it is capable of educating, training and providing employment for the present population, before entertaining doubling its problems by increasing the population through immigration."
Walker says the Maori people view the new immigration policy as a covert strategy to suppress Maori efforts to gain their full rights. By swamping the country with thousands of immigrants from many different Asian nationalities, the Maori are becoming just one of many minorities, and one of the smaller populations if the program continues, he explains.
Leaders from academia, business, and government have promoted the virtues of multiculturalism for New Zealand. They have said that a kind of rainbow coalition of immigrants and Maori will help the Maori better fit into society as an equal social group, rather than being one small minority amidst a huge European majority.
But the Maori have resisted the multiculturalist ideology, insisting that New Zealand is a bi-racial nation. Even though the Maori have suffered great discrimination and hardship at the hands of their British colonizers, they much prefer to share New Zealand with only those European settlers, Walker says. The Maori have historic claims that they can make on the European majority, claims that have no power over immigrant peoples who come from other continents.22
Similarly in the United States, the prospects for national attention to Black needs were much stronger thirty years ago when the country still was a substantially bi-racial culture. When a policy of mass immigration was begun in 1965, 75 percent of all minorities in America were Blacks. Today, the population of other minorities is larger than that of the descendants of slavery.
Not only have African Americans become just one of many minorities, but they are losing the White majority upon whom any historic claim of specialness or affirmative action rests. Many African Americans, for example, are not soothed by the fact that Whites soon will be a minority of the population in California. The Latino population is much larger than the number of Blacks, and the Asian community already is about the same size. Whatever happens demographically in California over the next few years is expected to occur for the nation as a whole by the middle of the next century ―if Congress does not change the immigration flow.
Unlike many native-born White Americans, immigrant groups feel no responsibility to Blacks because of past slavery and racial apartheid practices. Individuals in those immigrant groups correctly point out that not only did none of their ancestors own American slaves but none of their ancestors even knew a slave. Consequently, immigrants are not reluctant to use affirmative action laws in California to try to increase their employment in government institutions by reducing the number of Black Americans in those jobs.
When California had a population that was overwhelmingly White, African Americans achieved a presence in government jobs higher than their presence in the general population. Now, immigrants are trying to change that in many of the major immigrant centers. Amaryllis Gutierrez, the associate director of the pharmacy at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center in Watts, sued the hospital, claiming that it discriminated against her in favor of Blacks. Her attorney told Jonathan Tilove that when Blacks claim they have some special status because there was slavery in Alabama, that is "bull ....23
Whites already are a minority in Los Angeles County. That has not elevated the status of Blacks. Between the Watts riots of 1965 and the Los Angeles riots in 1992, the Latino share of the population soared from 10 percent to nearly 40 percent. Then there are the increases in Asians, Middle Easterners, and so on.
As the Maori fear will happen to them in New Zealand, Blacks already have lost nearly all special minority status in Los Angeles. Unfortunately for Blacks, immigrants are far more likely than White Americans to hold negative attitudes about African Americans. A 1994 survey asked people their reaction to the statement: "Even if given a chance, [Blacks] aren't capable of getting ahead." Only 12 percent of Whites agreed. But the pejorative stereotype was held by double the Asians and triple the Latinos.24
nearly nine of every ten Americans were White, it was much easier to ask them to
give a little preference to the one of ten Americans who was Black. Whatever the
personal cost of affirmative action to individual Whites, it was far smaller in
the 1960s than it is today because a smaller and smaller portion of the
population that is White must carry the costs for a larger and larger portion of
people who are being treated legally as if they are Black. Thus, it is no
surprise that the drive to eliminate affirmative action programs would start in
where the per capita potential for inconvenience to Whites is so much greater.
All of the above raises questions for American Blacks that the New Zealand Maori are asking: Is it better to be one of many minorities in a multicultural society, or the special historicminority in a bi-racial one? It is a question that still matters because many parts of the United States retain the old bi-racial culture. Orlando Patterson, professor of sociology at Harvard, comments: "The demands of Hispanics, Italian Americans, Polish Americans, Native Americans and others diluted and eventually trivialized the very special claims of Blacks for national attention .... By the end of the '80s, the multicultural emphasis on the equality of all subcultures and de-emphasis on the common culture had the same consequence for African Americans as the traditional racist emphasis on the supremacy of WASPS: It belittled the extraordinary contribution of African Americans to the overarching national culture."25
African Americans are not unaware of their shifting place in American society. Unlike the beginning of the century, though, they now have little in the way of political leadership to guide their seething anger; rage occasionally spills out in destructive expressions.
Deborah Sontag reported in The New York Times on the growing incidence of such rage, including the example of a Salvadoran dishwasher who was assaulted and robbed by a group of Black natives who told him: "You steal our jobs, we steal your money.”26 After the 1992 riots in Los Angeles, roving gangs of Black residents intimidated contractors who were attempting to rebuild with immigrant labor.
In a long cover story for the Atlantic Monthly in October 1992, Jack Miles delivered a ground-breaking analysis of the L.A. riots. The court acquittal of White policemen on the charge of beating a Black motorist was only the spark for the nation's worst riot, Miles argued. The deep reservoirs of rage that fueled the riots were created from the economic, social, and political frustration of a Black population that has been under siege for thirty years from the competition of a massive influx of foreign workers into their neighborhoods, he suggested.27
An editorial in the Mexican-American La Prensa San Diego spoke directly about the matter: "Faced with nearly a million and a half Latinos taking over the inner city, Blacks revolted, rioted and looted. Whatever measure of power and influence they had pried loose from the White power structure, they now see as being in danger of being transferred to the Latino community. Not only are they losing influence, public offices and control of the major civil rights mechanisms, they now see themselves being replaced in the pecking order by the Asian community, in this case the Koreans . . ."28
Prospects are not particularly bright for domestic tranquility under the current set of ethnic tensions and immigrant flows, according to John Higham, long regarded by many as America's authoritative historian of immigration and as generally a friend of immigration. He looks at the results of three decades of mass immigration and says, "The brute fact of tension, of conflict, of susceptibility to riots and so on, has to be regarded as a really serious problem." As author of the classic Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism 1860-1925, Higham knows well the ugly exchanges and violence surrounding immigration early this century. But he believes the concentration of foreign workers and their families in the United States today is more dangerous.29
The National Academy of Sciences' massive study on Black Americans concluded in 1989: "We cannot exclude the possibility of confrontation and violence. The ingredients are there: large populations of jobless youths, an extensive sense of relative deprivation and injustice, distrust of the legal system, frequently abrasive police-community relations, highly visible inequalities, extreme concentrations of poverty, and great racial awareness. Such conditions sometimes produce apathy when disadvantaged persons feel that their situation is hopeless. But the surface calm can disappear very quickly."30
Miami, for example, has erupted at least three times in the last fifteen years, and there is no indication that the underlying tensions between native Blacks and the immigrant populations have dissipated. Not least among the incendiary factors is the widespread belief among Black residents that the immigrants who flooded their city and neighborhoods were given economic assistance not afforded to Black residents. The anthropologist Alex Stepick of Florida International University studied the minority economic development programs that grew out of the 1960s civil rights movement to help Black Americans. What he found was that the Blacks in Miami didn't get much help from them; once again, most of the financial aid went to immigrants.31
Amidst all the dreary recitations of the seemingly intractable problems of the "failed Black third," perhaps the greatest hope for immediate improvement can be discovered in an exhibition of fifty-five-year-old art that has been touring the country in recent years.
The Migration Series by Jacob Lawrence portrays the event that did more than any other ―outside of the Civil War's emancipation― to raise the economic and social status of Black Americans. That event was the Great Migration of southern Blacks ―during World War I and during and after World War II― into the high-wage industrial cities of the North and the West, an epic captured by Lawrence on sixty panels.
Lawrence wastes no time in his series of paintings in stating explicitly why that transforming event, the Great Migration, occurred: Foreign immigration was reduced ―not modestly but drastically.
His caption under Panel No. 2 declares that southern Black labor suddenly became valuable during World War I because immigration of foreign workers almost stopped and many young White workers went to Europe for the war. Faced with a labor shortage, northern industrialists finally made their jobs available to the horribly underemployed descendants of slavery in the South. Black Americans could resume their march of economic progress that had been so tragically stymied when the Great Wave of immigration was allowed to begin in 1880.
The immigration reduction from 1915 through 1919 due to the war was something of a trial run, and Lawrence was born in the midst of it in 1917 while his parents were en route from the South to New York City. A return of mass immigration after the war interrupted the Black migration.
Fortune magazine catapulted the twenty-three-year-old Lawrence into fame by publishing all sixty paintings in its November 1941 issue. The editorial introduction explained that the continuing Black migration in the 1940s was made possible by the decisive congressional action in 1924 that cut foreign immigration back to a lower, more traditional level ―an average of below 200,000 a year through 1965.
The hope for the 1990s is not in repeating the Black migration of midcentury but in repeating the tight-labor conditions that made Black Americans more economically valuable. To an optimistic viewer, Lawrence's series evokes the possibility that the abysmal conditions of the "failed Black third" today do not have to continue. The work suggests that although there likely is no quick fix to all the problems, there is a quick action ―a dramatic cutback in immigration― that might turn the tide.
Panel No. 4 portrays a solitary Black man driving a spike. The caption reads: "All other sources of labor having been exhausted, the migrants [southern Blacks] were the last resource." Only when the hiring line shortened did industrialists take Booker T. Washington's advice and "cast down their buckets" for the Black workers at the end of the line.
The wonderful quality of a labor shortage is captured in Lawrence's painting of northern employers flooding the South with labor agents. The economist Gavin Wright of Stanford says they offered the southern Blacks free transportation and assurances of jobs. Black Americans were faced with economic opportunities in the North that were too powerful to resist, concluded a group of scholars in the Research in Economic History journal.32
To capture the thrill, one must imagine what it would be like today if employers actually needed the labor of young Black men and women and set up recruiting and training stations smack in the middle of the inner cities. It probably is too much to hope that cutting immigration flows once again to below 200,000 would tighten the labor market immediately. But it would remove an enormous barrier that has blocked the ability of many pro-active efforts that have been under way to bring success to the "failed Black third." Certainly, the farther below 200,000 immigration can be cut, the better for creating those all-important tight-labor conditions.
Reynolds Farley of the University of Michigan endorses a labor shortage as something of an all-purpose medicine. He says many factors since 1965 ought to have worked in favor of the Blacks and would suggest that Blacks should have done much better than they did during the time of national economic expansion in the 1980s. Among the positive factors were "the civil rights changes of the 1960s and the apparent removal of the many barriers which once kept Blacks in the back of the bus, out of schools, confined to menial jobs, and away from the polling booths in southern states." In addition, the large gaps between Black and White school enrollments in 1960 "have just about disappeared."
All those positive factors for Blacks ―despite the economic stagnation and regression that Blacks found in the 1980s― still can build toward a positive future if the country can once again tighten its labor market, Farley maintains.33
Nicolas Lemann in The Promised Land advises against fatalism and bitterness when considering the seemingly insuperable condition of the Black slums in big cities, saying, "it is encouraging to remember how often in the past a hopeless situation, which appeared to be completely impervious to change, finally did change for the better .... In this century legal segregation looked like an unfortunate given, impossible to eliminate, until well after the end of World War II. That Black America could become predominantly middle class, non-Southern, and nonagrarian would have seemed inconceivable until a bare two generations ago."34
Dare we imagine that the foundational act ―restricting immigration― that freed the descendants of slavery from the southern plantations might also allow those now trapped in the slums to find vitality in life? Considerable scholarship even suggests that the 1924 immigration restriction ―because it enabled the Black migration― was the foundational act for the ending of segregation, as well. "The outmigration of Blacks from the South after 1940 was the greatest single economic step forward in Black history, and a major advance toward the integration of Blacks into the mainstream of American life," says Gavin Wright.35
Between 1940 and the 1960s, the South lost most of its surplus labor. Once again, the fortunes of poor southern Whites and Blacks were tied. What few people realize is that the size of the White migration to the North after the reduction in immigration actually was larger than that of the great Black migration. Under tight-labor conditions, the South finally had to mechanize and improve education, working conditions, and wages for the Black and White workers who remained.
In 1940, state governments in the South were largely organized around protecting White supremacy. But thirty years later, they were primarily concerned with development on the part of a national economy. To the extent that segregation policies retarded industrial development and outside investment, business leaders were susceptible to appeals to break down racial barriers. "This change in the fundamentals of southern society ultimately made possible the success of the civil rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s," says Gavin Wright.36
Sociologists Piven and Cloward have concluded that "economic modernization had made the South susceptible to political modernization." A complete domination of Blacks based on terror no longer was essential to the ruling class.37 Meanwhile, the growing Black population outside the South and outside the feudal controls there began to organize politically. Not only did Black northerners protest their own conditions but they applied the key pressure on northern lawmakers to cease support for the southern system of racial apartheid.
When Black Americans finally got federal protection for voting rights in 1965, they had already enjoyed twenty-five years of rapidly rising wages. On average, their incomes still remained well below those of White Americans. But over that twenty-five-year period leading up to the new civil rights laws, Black workers' real wages rose almost twice as fast as the rapidly rising wages of White workers.
The general long-term improvements deriving from immigration reductions between 1924 and 1965 and from the great Black migration, however, cannot hide a great deal of suffering along the way.
Later panels in Lawrence's Migration Series portray how life in the new northern tenements often was better only by degrees from what the Black southerners had fled. For the North, the Black migrants had much the same effect as large flows of immigrants from Europe had. When they arrived in smaller numbers, they did quite well. But as the volume increased and continued, the social and economic structures sagged beneath the burden.
Piven and Cloward say that "the circumstances of urban Blacks worsened precisely because their numbers increased." As is the case with today's immigrants, it may not have been the fault of the individual newcomers; but their increasing numbers nonetheless became harmful to the earlier Black migrants, and to the northern natives, who suffered as they had from other large waves of immigrants from foreign lands. Among the consequences of this "migratory upheaval" was the beginning of the erosion of the Black family structure that helps drag down the "failed Black third" today.
The difficulty in incorporating the huge new Black populations contributed to simmering northern and western ghettoes, which exploded in terrifying insurrection in the 1960s. Cities that had more rapid recent in-migration of Black southerners were the most likely to suffer serious riots.
Ironically, the civil rights successes in the South probably contributed to the riots in the North and West by breeding impatience with the lack of political and social progress there. Black residents of the North and West, despite decades of economic improvement, engaged in desperate and destructive acts as they concluded that the Whites of their regions were not ending the discrimination of the union hiring halls or the hostility of police departments, according to the historian Harvard Sitkoff.38
The renewal of mass immigration in 1965 certainly did not by itself bring about the end of Black progress in the early 1970s. There were many factors. The war in Vietnam sapped federal resources and created a divisiveness throughout society that eliminated the sense of national purpose most conducive to racial improvements. New civil rights laws stirred a strong backlash among a minority of racist Whites. And changes in the structure of the U.S. economy and in federal policies on foreign competition destroyed jobs in the industries and regions where Blacks disproportionately had found work at good wages.
Although massive annual flows of foreign workers did not cause those problems, it made no sense to unleash mass immigration while the problems were unresolved. Because of their status in the economy, Black Americans are more vulnerable than others to changes in public policy and the national economy, according to the nearly one hundred scholars who studied the subject for the National Academy of Sciences. Pouring foreign workers into Black communities could only exacerbate the social disintegration already taking place and deepen the economic trauma they were suffering from industrial restructuring.
But the majority of White Americans weren't paying a lot of attention in the 1970s to whether policies hurt Blacks. Sympathetic Whites, whose support was essential, had lost enthusiasm for the cause in the late 1960s as Black integration leaders waned in their influence over African Americans. As White supporters and more moderate, longtime Black civil rights leaders were pushed out of the limelight, the most publicized Black leaders preached against integration and interracial harmony. The outbreak of riots focused Americans' attention on issues of order and safety. Like many White abolitionists after the Civil War, most White liberals acquiesced to the desire of conservative economic interests to avoid the Black workforce by turning to cheap foreign workers during the seventies and eighties. Unlike the last century, however, there was no expanding manufacturing base or open western frontier to help absorb the immigrants.
Once again, beginning in the 1970s, the federal government was filling the labor pool with immigrants, loosening labor markets, and standing by as Black Americans were forced to the back of the hiring line. Two-thirds of Black Americans have held on to middle-class status nevertheless. Most had gained it during the decades when Washington restrained the entry of foreign workers and allowed Black Americans for a long and shining moment to flourish in tight-labor markets.
Is it possible that America could rekindle its commitment to help the impoverished descendants of slavery?
Nicolas Lemann believes that, despite "an undeniable strain of racial prejudice in its character," the United States also has a conscience that will respond to the horror of the urban ghettoes which now arc among the world's worst places to live. He mentions two conditions which he says traditionally have helped the ghettoes and which don't require much in the way of government programs or money:
1. "For most of our history, the issue of race has been linked to the issue of nationhood. During periods of fragmentation-periods when a multiplicity of local, ethnic and economic interests held sway-racial problems have been put on the shelf. It is during the times when there has been a strong sense of national community that the problems have been addressed."
2. "The ghettos partake in the fluidity of American society . . . their condition improves in tight labor markets and worsens in more competitive ones."39
Both of Lemann's preconditions for helping the Black ghettoes would be enhanced considerably by the simple act of cutting immigration back to the average annual flows of below200,000 that existed from 1924 to 1965.
To Lindsey Grant, a former deputy assistant secretary of state, the moral obligation to do that is clear:
The nation a generation ago, in rare unity, launched perhaps its greatest moral crusade: to eliminate racism and to bring Blacks into the economic mainstream. Since then . . . we have inadvertently done the one thing that could most effectively sabotage that crusade. We have allowed the almost unfettered entry of competition for entry-level jobs, at which the Blacks could be starting their entry into the economy .... It is not enough to argue that the immigrant-hungry and fearful of deportation will work harder. One must also answer the question: The Blacks are Americans; how do we bring the increasingly alienated, restless and isolated ghetto Blacks into the system?40
Briggs acknowledged that there are a lot of different opinions about what the government should do to help the "failed Black third." But everybody should be agreed on what the government should not do: Washington should not do anything that harms Black Americans, "and that's what our immigration policy is doing.”41
Later that year, in December, Eugene McCarthy addressed a crowded Senate hearing room on the subject of immigration. The former senator and Democratic presidential candidate had been one of the chief co-sponsors of the 1965 revision that led to mass immigration. The elder statesmen explained that the increase in immigration had been entirely unintended. He said the increases have been immensely harmful to the country and should be rolled back.
A reporter queried McCarthy about how the country could live up to its moral obligations if it cut immigration drastically.
McCarthy didn't hesitate in his response. The moral priority for the United States, he said, remains that of addressing the descendants of two centuries of slavery and another century of racial apartheid who remain in the underclass. To the extent that large-scale immigration interferes with meeting Black Americans' needs, he stressed, the immigrant must wait.
Please send mail to
firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or comments about this web site. Minnesotans For Sustainability
(MFS) is not
affiliated with any government body, private, or corporate entity.
Copyright © 2002 Minnesotans For Sustainability