- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2006

Black leaders say Mexicans and other Hispanic nationals are getting preferential immigration treatment, as the U.S. systematically turns away people from countries with largely African-descended populations, such as Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.

“We’ve told Haiti that their development strategy cannot be to send people to the United States, and if you put them on a boat we will send them back. But for Mexico it is OK,” said William E. Spriggs, chairman of Howard University’s School of Economics and a senior fellow with the Economic Policy Institute.

The leaders, especially conservatives, say the country can’t have an honest immigration reform debate without discussing how much people are being paid and why only certain nationalities are allowed to come into the country illegally and work off the books.

“There can’t be 10 million Mexicans in America worth $5 a hour and there aren’t 10 million Mexicans in Mexico worth $5 a hour, that just can’t be,” Mr. Spriggs said. “We are letting Mexico get away with this, and until we have a full discussion on wage levels in Mexico we will never solve this problem.”

The Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, a Los Angeles-based conservative talk show host and founder of the nonprofit Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, said the debate about immigration reform is all about politics.

“Unfortunately for blacks, politicians like [Sen. Edward M.] Kennedy are more interested in the next election — and blacks are a small slice of the voting pie, while Hispanic numbers are exploding,” he said. “Blacks must finally claim their birthright as Americans, and say ‘no’ to the further devastation of their work force and communities by illegal aliens and their political accomplices.”

While many mainstream black leaders fall in line with Democrats, generally supporting guest-worker programs or amnesty for illegal aliens, blacks are split on how to reform immigration so that jobs, border security and the rights of migrant laborers are all protected.

Mr. Spriggs said blacks are not willing to turn Hispanic migrants away based on arguments that appear to be either xenophobic or racist.

“Most blacks don’t think migrant workers hurt their chances to get work, with the exception of a few industries — most notably construction — and they want to show solidarity with the immigrants,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat.

But, he said, people are put off by the rhetoric used to support a guest-worker program for illegal aliens already in the U.S.

“The most insulting thing you hear is that [immigrants] are doing jobs that we won’t do … as if the idea is that if we won’t do a back-breaking job for $5.15 an hour without protections — health care, workers’ compensation — [it] means we are shiftless and lazy. That is simply an insult,” Mr. Thompson said.

However, a recent poll by the Pew Research Center showed that blacks were more likely than whites — 33 percent compared to 25 percent — to say they think immigrants take jobs from Americans.

In 1986, during the last amnesty, black unemployment was about 15 percent while Hispanic unemployment hovered near 11 percent. Twenty years later, the unemployment rate is 9.3 percent for blacks and 6 percent for Hispanics.

The United States currently offers special protected status to people fleeing their home countries for reasons such as natural disasters, a group which currently includes Nicaragua and Honduras. In addition, illegal aliens from Cuba are usually released as they apply for refugee status, while those from Haiti and other nations are incarcerated.

Blacks also worry about the political consequences of amnesty, which could leave them with waning voting power if the approximately 12 million illegal aliens are made citizens. Black leaders who support a guest-worker program with an easier path to citizenship, such as Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, speak of solidarity with unions — which have long supported the Democratic Party and contribute millions to its candidates.

“We should want employees out of the shadows, because if they’re legal they’re subject to wage laws, taxes and Social Security,” Mr. Obama said.

“There is a reason why the [Service Employees International Union] is focusing support for this bill, because right now illegals cannot be organized, and that will be for the [good] of African-American workers.”

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