The issue of illegal immigration has inflamed the passions of millions of Americans. It has also become a deeply divisive and polarizing issue among blacks and Gays as well. No matter which side Americans stand on the debate, most reasonable persons agree that immigration reform must be humane and balanced and safeguard the rights of native born American workers and those from other countries.
Jasmyne Cannick agrees with that position. She has not said or done anything that could in any way be construed as supporting repressive, punitive legislation that criminalizes undocumented workers. However, as an African-American woman, she also shares some of the concerns that a significant number of blacks, and many economists have voiced. Put simply, that concern is that unchecked undocumented illegal immigration could have an adverse affect on some in the African-American communities.
The recent studies from Princeton, Columbia and Harvard, and the Urban League’s State of Black America report print a grim economic picture for young black males. They suffer an unemployment rate double and triple that of white males. Many are marginally are unskilled. The type of jobs that they have traditionally worked and that have provided their entrance into the labor force and their first step up the economic ladder have been janitorial, construction industry, restaurant, hotel, domestic services, and light manufacturing jobs. In many urban areas these industries are now closed to them. Employers in their relentless search for cheap labor prefer to employ (or exploit) illegal immigrants in these positions. To state this fact is not to finger point or blame illegal immigrants for the dire economic plight of poor young blacks but it does state a reality. Cannick agrees that failing public schools, discrimination family instability, drug and alcohol abuse are also huge factors in fueling their economic crisis. However, it is wrong headed and disingenuous to deny that illegal immigration has not been one of the causal factors of the unemployment crisis at the lower job end for urban black males. If, and this is the huge if, employers paid a decent wage many of these young men would take these jobs.
Cannick as a black woman, and black activist is highly sensitive to that dilemma. This is not to pit, spew bigotry, or polarize progressive gay and lesbians from the struggle for immigrant rights. Cannick simply articulates another point of view. She stated it as an individual and made it clear that she spoke as an individual. That’s her right as a writer, activist and concerned black woman. She has openly invited others to share their views on the issue, even those that oppose her. She wants and welcomes dialogue, not personal vilification and organizational censorship. The gay and lesbian community should accept her challenge to enhance that dialogue on immigration reform. Both sides can learn and grow from each other.
Dr. Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Author The Crisis in Black and Black
Nationally syndicated columnist and political analyst