- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2007

The head of Miami’s Urban League chapter and a Texas Republican congressman are challenging civil rights groups to address the effect that increased illegal immigration has had on black unemployment.

“All we are saying is that there needs to be a conversation about it, and I don’t understand how any organization that claims to be in existence to champion the betterment of African-Americans, their employment, education and civil rights would not address this issue,” said T. Willard Fair, president of the Greater Miami Urban League.

He testified recently before the House Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee and quoted heavily from Harvard University professor and researcher George Borjas and others, who have concluded that illegal immigration has cut the wages of American men with no education beyond high school by $1,800 a year.

“Immigration isn’t the whole reason for the drop in employment for black men; it’s not even half the reason, but it is the largest single reason, and it’s something we can fix relatively easily,” Mr. Fair said.

The testimony was part of a letter sent to the presidents of the National Urban League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference by Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.

“You have probably heard that [the Department of Homeland Security] has recently conducted raids on several businesses that were employing large numbers of illegal immigrants. In every case, those jobs were almost immediately filled, largely by African-Americans, at higher wages than the illegal immigrants were making,” Mr. Smith said in the letter dated May 14.

He said that despite the raids and the “positive” outcomes for black workers, the Senate is still working to pass a “mass amnesty” for illegal aliens and urged the civil rights groups to take a stand.

“If you agree with me, please join me in speaking out against the Senate’s proposed mass amnesty for illegal immigrants,” Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Fair, a renowned civil rights activist for equal education in the state of Florida and recently elected chairman of the State Board of Education, has been working for more than two years to get the Urban League’s national leadership, including President Marc Morial, to engage in a dialogue with the membership and local chapters on the affect illegal immigration has on the wages and employment of blacks.

“Everybody in the League loves me, except for Marc Morial, because they know I have devoted my life to the Urban League movement, and I went to him first,” Mr. Fair said. “I understand his position, but we cannot continue to ignore this issue and not have this discussion.”

Mr. Morial was unavailable for comment.

Other recipients of the letter, including Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and Ron Woods of SCLC, did not return calls seeking comment.

Hilary O. Shelton, Washington bureau director for the NAACP, whose President Dennis C. Hayes was a recipient of the letter, said Mr. Fair “raises a helpful question, but it is a question that is not in the proper context.”

“It sounds like that same effort to scapegoat immigrants for the overall failings of our economic system,” Mr. Shelton said. “What we need to talk about and what the real issue is, is the reality of these low-paying jobs without access to health care and lacking of a living wage.”

He said the NAACP’s engagement in the immigration debate began decades ago in response to “the very disparate” effect of the national immigration quotas, which make it harder for persons from Africa and black Caribbean countries, particularly Haiti, to come into the United States, than from Cuba and elsewhere in Latin America.

Mr. Shelton said the group has expanded its platform over the years to include concerns over labor exploitation and putting the spotlight on companies that are benefiting from trafficking in aliens to maximize profits.

“Let’s not forget that these are human beings, who are being duped, entering into an exploitative system that they are not made fully aware of and are not adequately prepared for as they search for the American dream.”

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