On Tuesday members of the Congressional Black Caucus led by Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver lambasted Republicans during a House Immigration Subcommittee hearing for trying to generate tension between black and immigrant communities in an effort to pass anti-immigrant bills that would serve neither community.
The committee’s newly appointed leaders–Reps. Elton Gallegly, Steve King and Lamar Smith, are longtime anti-immigration hardliners who gathered folks for a panel called "Making Immigration Work for American Minorities," in which House members debated the impact that immigrants had on high unemployment and depressed wages in communities of color. Gallegly, King and Smith argued that immigrants drove down wages and were primarily responsible for the unemployment crisis in black communities.
"I am concerned by the majority’s attempt to manufacture tension between African-Americans and immigrant communities. It seems as though they would like for our communities to think about immigration in terms of ‘us versus them,’ and I reject that notion," Cleaver said in his statement, the AP reported.
Gallegly showed he pays attention to all the statistics about the recession’s disproportionate impact on communities of color and young people. "Many of those most impacted by the current job crisis are minorities," Gallegly said in his statement. "The unemployment rates for blacks and Hispanics are 15.7 percent and 11.9 percent, respectively. They often compete for jobs with low-skilled immigrant workers."
Gallegly showed he pays attention to racial disparities in education, too: "And young people have been hit especially hard by the recession. In fact, of young U.S-born blacks (ages 18-29), 55 percent have no education higher than a high school diploma. And of young U.S.-born Hispanics, 54 percent have no education higher than a high school diploma."
"With unemployment at or over 9 percent for 21 months, jobs are scarce," said Smith in his prepared remarks. "Virtually all credible studies show that competition from cheap foreign labor displaces American workers, including legal immigrants, or depresses their wages."
But CBC members quickly debunked that argument.
"It seems as though they would like for our communities to think about immigration in terms of ‘us vs. them,’ and I reject that notion," Cleaver said in a written statement, the Ventura County Star reported.
Other CBC members including Rep. John Conyers spoke up against the GOP’s tactics to divide communities of color, which he called "abhorrent and repulsive."
"We cannot afford to let people who have political agendas divide us," Rep. Maxine Waters said, adding that the hearings were an attempt to divert attention from the real, myriad causes of high black unemployment rates.
"Many American workers are suffering from the same economic condition, and our broken immigration system creates a race to the bottom for the worst paying and most difficult jobs," Cleaver said. "Playing politics with immigration only reinforces the status quo."
Immigrant rights advocates said Republicans’ concern for communities of color was disingenuous. "Another day, another hypocritical attempt by Republican immigration hardliners to disguise their mass deportation agenda in more popular terms," Frank Sharry, head of the immigration reform advocacy group America’s Voice, said in a statement. "But these politicians have been voting against the rights of workers for years. This hearing is a transparent attempt to rebrand their extreme, anti-immigration agenda, and it won’t work."
Sharry highlighted report cards from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the NAACP that showed that Gallegly, Smith and King consistently voted against student aid, job training programs and affirmative action programs that would have supported young people and people of color during the recession.
Immigrant and civil rights advocates also highlighted research from the Immigration Policy Center that shows that immigration does not cause black unemployment, and that there was no strong correlation between the two. Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, testified that high unemployment rates in black communities was a persistent trend spanning decades and was due more to the war on drugs and mass incarceration policies, as well as black folks’ restricted access to high quality public education and decent housing and jobs.
Consider it the right-wing nativists’ version of the right-wing anti-choice stalwarts’ black genocide myth, which have also exploded onto the national stage in the current debates around women’s reproductive rights. It’s a tactic built around using actual facts about inequality to create the illusion of empathy for communities as a way to drive through divisive, exploitative policies that wouldn’t help address the actual issues communities of color face.