Monday, March 22, 2010

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) recently made the trip down Pennsylvania Avenue for a chat with a former member of the caucus, President Obama. According to news reports, it was not an entirely happy reunion.

Like just about everyone else, it seems, the CBC has its own list of grievances with the man in the White House. Chief among the concerns of black lawmakers is the president’s failure to address a black unemployment rate that far exceeds that of the general population. Sixteen percent of black workers are unemployed, and among black teens, a staggering 44.9 percent are out of work.

There is ample blame to be laid at the White House door, but the 43 members of the CBC who represent largely black constituencies also bear a large share of the responsibility. While some 8 million existing U.S. jobs are estimated to be held by illegal aliens, the CBC, like Mr. Obama, has consistently opposed tough enforcement of laws against employing illegal aliens. Many of the jobs filled by illegal aliens could be filled by black Americans, especially the huge cohort of black youth who are neither in school nor part of the labor force.

Rather than press the president to fulfill his responsibilities to American workers and resume meaningful enforcement against companies that employ illegal aliens, removing those workers from the country, the CBC marches in lockstep with the interests that promote illegal immigration. Since taking office last year, Mr. Obama has all but halted immigration enforcement in the workplace - a policy that enjoys the support of the CBC.

The CBC also has been front and center in the effort to enact amnesty for millions of illegal aliens and throw open the doors to still higher levels of future immigration. Late last year, representing her 42 colleagues, Rep. Yvette D. Clark, New York Democrat, whip of the CBC, stood shoulder to shoulder with Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat, as he unveiled an illegal alien amnesty bill that would provide nothing for black Americans except more competition for jobs, educational opportunities and increasingly scarce government resources.

As members of the body that is crafting a federal budget projected to include $1.5 trillion worth of red ink, the CBC knows full well that we do not have the ability to spend our way out of the unemployment crisis that disproportionately affects black Americans. What they and the Obama administration can do, however, is make sure that American workers - regardless of race or ethnicity - have access to millions of existing jobs now filled by illegal workers, or any new jobs that may be created.

The CBC also should be the vanguard of the effort to reduce overall levels of immigration to the United States. During the 2000s, the growth of our labor force - fueled by the highest levels of legal and illegal immigration in our nation’s history - outpaced the growth of jobs in our economy. As often has been the case throughout history, it is black workers who have suffered the most.

As leaders of the black community, members of the CBC are in a unique position to frame the immigration issue in terms of social justice and ensuring opportunity to all Americans. Latinos and other immigrants are not entirely to blame for unemployment that disproportionately afflicts black Americans. Rather, it is immigration policies that ignore the profound impact of millions of people entering our country - legally and illegally - that are a huge part of the problem.

Rather than compounding the damage that ill-conceived and unenforced immigration policies have inflicted on Americans generally and black Americans particularly, it is time for the CBC and America’s first black president to confront and reform those policies. Reducing immigration to the United States and enforcing laws intended to protect the interests of American workers are not only the right things to do, they are the only viable things to do given the fiscal realities our nation is facing.

Reforming America’s dysfunctional immigration policies and enforcing laws against illegal immigration will not magically cure unemployment and other problems in the black community. But, under current circumstances, there is likely nothing that the CBC and Mr. Obama could do that would have more immediate or beneficial impact on black Americans. Sadly, it is a step that black congressional leaders and the White House are unlikely to take.

Frank L. Morris Sr., a member of the board of directors of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, is a former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

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