As Congress prepares to discuss Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR), I am greatly concerned that African Americans will find themselves in the middle of the debate without a voice. Previously, the economic plight of African Americans has been used by CIR opponents to galvanize negative sentiment around the issue. They have continuously used fear and misrepresentation to muffle the black voice in the CIR debate.
Some African Americans have been fearful that the migration of our undocumented neighbors might have an adverse affect on their employment. The truth is, according to a May 2009 report from the Immigration Policy Center, there is no correlation between immigrants entering the labor workforce and the unemployment rate among native-born African Americans. Unfortunately, the unemployment rate in the African American community sits at 14.8 percent. This is due to broader macroeconomic developments, such as the loss of jobs in the auto and steel industries. We must work to address these issues head on, as opposed to using immigration as a scapegoat.
This recession was NOT caused by immigrant workers "taking jobs" from Americans. It was caused by the economic meltdown of the past three years brought on by the loose lending standards and unregulated market practices of some in the financial services world, pushing our economy to the brink of disaster. It was caused by the failure of the last administration to use resources in the economic stimulus plan to target African Americans and other hard hit populations facing the highest rates of unemployment.
The notion that immigrants are a detriment to African American employment is further disputed by the turnaround of our nation's immigration population. The 2008 Census reports that the foreign born immigration population dropped slightly in 2007. Nonetheless, the African American unemployment rate had risen to 11.9 percent by December of 2008, according to data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). We cannot continue to point our fingers at immigrants. We must instead focus on investing in our economy through major immigration reform.
I will continue to push for making Comprehensive Immigration Reform a priority for Congress. The American Council on International Personnel reported that while the United States has closed its door on our immigrant innovators and job creators, other countries have opened theirs to critical talent needed for economic growth and job creation. My esteemed colleagues and I will offer legislation that can increase America's competitive edge and create jobs in this challenging economy.
Immigrant neighbors and the black community should not be pitted against each other, as they face the same challenges. African Americans and immigrants share a common desire for fair opportunities to reach the American Dream. The real issue is found in the discriminatory practices that immigrants and African Americans both face. Comprehensive Immigration Reform can be a sensible answer to these problems. When the black community raises their voices for Comprehensive Immigration reform, they should focus on supporting legislation that stops employers from paying below minimum wage to undocumented workers, therefore, exploiting African American workers. They should use their voice to call for reasonable access to our immigrant neighbors who can enhance the marketplace in a positive way. Indeed, the economy has affected the employment rate of African Americans; however, no community should be pleased with the indentured servitude mentality that employers force on immigrants.
We cannot delay the debate on Comprehensive Immigration Reform any longer, and the progressive voices in the Black community will be heard. With the support of the African American community, this legislation will empower our nation, provide a pathway to citizenship for our nation's immigrants, and add measures that will strengthen and stabilize our economy. We must form a unified front between the African American and immigrant communities and fight for the common ground we share in our desire for the American dream. Whether citizen, or immigrant, everyone makes up the history of this great nation, and I will continue to work diligently for Congress' support for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.