Near the close of a recent spirited community forum in South Los Angeles on Black and Latino relations, a young Black man in the audience stood up and proudly, even defiantly, shouted that he was a member of the Minuteman Project.
This is the fringe group that has waged a headline-grabbing campaign to shut down the Mexican border to illegal immigrants. GOP conservatives and immigration reformers have denounced the Minutemen's borderline racist rants.
The rhetoric didn't faze the young Black man, nor many other Blacks in the audience who nodded in agreement as he launched into a tirade against illegal immigrants that he claimed steal jobs from Blacks. He punctuated his tirade by loudly announcing that he had taken part in a Minuteman border patrol back in April.
Illegal immigration clearly touched a raw nerve with many Blacks in the audience. Nationally, many Blacks are unabashed in fingering illegal immigrants, mostly Mexicans — even though many illegal immigrants are from Canada, Europe and Asia — for the poverty and job dislocation in Black communities. More than half of Americans, according to a Pew Research Center survey last November, said that illegal immigration should be a top national policy priority.
Though there is furious dispute over issue, there is no concrete evidence that the majority of employers hire Latinos at low-end jobs and exclude Blacks. The sea of state and federal anti-discrimination laws explicitly ban employment discrimination. Despite a recent flurry of lawsuits and settlements by Blacks against and with major employers, employers vehemently deny that they shun Blacks and maintain that Blacks simply don't apply for these jobs.
These aren't just flimsy covers for discrimination. Many Blacks will no longer work the low-skilled, menial jobs that they filled in decades past. The pay is too low, the work too hard and the indignities too great. On the other hand, those Blacks that seek these jobs are often given a quick brush-off by employers. The subtle message is that Blacks won't be hired, even if they do apply. This further deepens suspicion among poor Blacks that illegal immigration is to blame for their economic misery.
The anti-immigrant sentiment among Blacks is not new. A century ago, immigration was also a hot-button issue among Black leaders. Marcus Garvey, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois railed against Eastern European immigrants that crowded Northern cities. They claimed the new immigrants elbowed Blacks out of the bottom-rung manufacturing jobs. At times, these leaders sounded every bit as hard line as the most rabid, America-first anti-immigration foes.
Civil rights leaders and the Congressional Black Caucus have repeatedly condemned the thinly disguised racist appeals of the Minuteman Project, Save Our State and the legions of other fringe anti-immigration groups that have cropped up in nearly every part of the country in recent months. Some of them openly pitch their anti-immigrant line to Blacks.
As the immigration debate heats up in Congress and in the states — and with so many young Blacks unemployed — more Blacks may find it harder to resist the temptation to join in the shout to close down the border.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a columnist for www.blacknews.com.