'Shop Talk': Immigration Reform Amid Debt Dilemma

The Barbershop guys weigh in on the widening wealth gap between whites and people of color, President Obama's speech to the National Council of La Raza, and the big trades that have recently happened through the NFL. Host Michel Martin hears from author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette and foreign policy analyst Mario Loyola.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Now it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shapeup this week are author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette and Mario Loyola, who writes for the conservative magazine the National Review, and works with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank. Take it away, Jimi. Too bad there's nothing to talk about, right?

JIMI IZRAEL: Right. Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas. Welcome to the shop. How we doin'?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Doing good, man.

MARIO LOYOLA: Que pasa?

IZRAEL: All right. Hey, my man. Good to see you back. Well, let's get things started. While Congress fights over the federal dollars and the ever-expanding debt, many people of color are asking, well, what money? I mean a new report says that while the recession hit everyone hard, it was African-Americans and Latinos that really took it in the mouth. Michel, really?

MARTIN: Yeah. So, you know, we started talking about this with Congressman Emanuel Cleaver a few minutes ago, but let me just expand on this. And we'll link to this report on our website if people want to check it out for themselves. The Pew Research Center used census information to confirm just how wide the wealth gap between whites and minorities is.

It turns out that between 2005 and 2009, the median net worth of Latino households dropped by 66 percent. It dropped by 53 percent for African-Americans and it dropped by 16 percent for whites. And one reason that the report cited for this disparity is that minorities tend to have more money wrapped up in housing, which is a point that Congressman Cleaver made, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. You know, one of the things that the research doesn't tell us, which I think is important to note, that many of these households of color are single family, which means single earner. And to me that kind of makes the numbers kind of hinky going in, but I still think it's noteworthy. Ruben, you're first.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

IZRAEL: Get this. The median net worth of white households is now about 113 grand.

NAVARRETTE: Right.

IZRAEL: For Latino households it's about 6 grand. And for African-Americans it's 5 grand, unless you live in my house.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

IZRAEL: Which, you know, maybe not. But there's sad, sad numbers there. So, I mean, Ruben, you're first in.

NAVARRETTE: Well, I'll tell you what, there's another little part to this story and that is the Asian numbers were a bit of a surprise to me. They're actually higher than the African-American numbers. Fifty-four percent of Asians, as I recall - it was a 54 percent drop for Asians. Sixty-six percent for Latinos, as Michel said.

So, that's sort of the way it went. It was Latinos got it the worst, then Asians, then African-Americans. And then obviously there was this not so bad a hit for white folks at 16 percent of their decline, their net worth over that time period. This is significant for a couple of reasons. How many times have we heard on this show and talked about on this show the perception that minorities are getting away with all this good stuff?

We have actually heard from individually, I'm sure, readers and listeners out there, white males in their 20s and 30s who think, man, it's too bad I wasn't born black because I could get into the college I wanted to.

IZRAEL: Right. Among other reasons.

NAVARRETTE: I could have affirmative action. I could get these benefits. I could get these freebies. I could get all this free stuff from the government, you know. And there is a perception out there we laugh about it sometimes. There's a perception particularly among young people that somehow minorities have it great. And this is the wakeup call. So raise your hand out there, folks, if you still want to be one of us, you know, let us know because these numbers don't look so good, you know.

There's room in the boat with a hole in the bottom if you want to come in. There is a significance to that in that regard. Beyond that, though, it's just bad news for the country. Because guess what, Jimi? The country is becoming more like us. As the country becomes more non-white, what does it mean that you have such a decline in wealth among that population? This is no fringe part of the population. This is a major piece of the pie.

MARTIN: Wow. Let's hear from everybody on this.

IZRAEL: A-train.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. I mean, I totally agree with Ruben, you know, talking about 113,000 for white Americans, 6,000 for Latinos, 5,000 for African-Americans.

MARTIN: Just to remind people, he's talking about net worth.

IFTIKHAR: Net worth. Right.

MARTIN: Median net worth.

IFTIKHAR: Median net worth.

MARTIN: Which means half have more and half have less than that.

IFTIKHAR: Right. And for me, you know, the only 100 grand that I have in my apartment is a chocolate bar.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IFTIKHAR: So, you know, this is something that a lot of Americans are dealing with today. You know, what I found most interesting about the study was the fact- was the whole housing equity, you know, debate in terms of, you know, how minority Americans tend to have more of their total net worth tied into their home equity as opposed to white Americans who tend to have more diversified portfolios.

And I think that if there is sort of a silver lining to be taken from this, you know, for people of color around the country, it's to diversify your portfolios as much as you can, obviously. You know, a lot of people want to buy single family homes for the first time. I'm still renting to this day. And so I know a lot of my net worth will end up being tied up in the house as well.

But, you know, I think that the more we diversify our portfolios, you know, the less effect a housing crash is going to have on future Americans.

MARTIN: What of Mario?

NAVARRETTE: Mario?

MARTIN: Where are you on this, Mario?

LOYOLA: Yeah, there's something, you know, there's something screwy about these numbers because I know that the overall American household sector is leveraged to about 90 percent is the ratio of debt to assets of the American household sector when looking at the economy as a whole. So I don't know, I mean where these people are, I mean half of whites have a net worth greater than 113,000?

MARTIN: Why wouldn't that be the case if you've got intergenerational transfers of wealth? Why wouldn't you then...

LOYOLA: Right.

MARTIN: If you've got parents who had a house and you had grandparents who had a house and they give you that house, I mean you've never seen this in your own life, Mario?

LOYOLA: I mean I, I...

MARTIN: You don't have friends that you went to college with and, you know, their parents are like oh, you're getting married. Do you want a house or do you want a big wedding? You've never seen that?

LOYOLA: Yeah. I guess. I mean I just thought that the American household in general was a lot more indebted than these numbers suggest. I mean, but another thing to think about - that's just a general observation. But another thing to think about is, you know, these numbers from back in 2005, before the housing bubble burst, it's really important to realize that there was a policy in the '90s of trying to extend housing opportunities, housing ownership opportunities, to Latinos and African-Americans, to underserved and minority populations.

And that was a big part of the reason why we had a housing bubble is that we were extending...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

LOYOLA: ...mortgages to people...

NAVARRETTE: That's right. Right.

LOYOLA: ...who couldn't really afford them.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah. Right.

LOYOLA: So these evaluations in 2005, the housing evaluations in 2005, we know now that those houses were overvalued. And that...

MARTIN: You know, this is such an interesting question, Mario. I'm glad you brought it because we're actually going to dig deeper into this in the coming weeks and, you know, perhaps you could come back and talk to us more about that. Because the other point that's worth making, and I credit your point and there's been some interesting research on this. The other point that bears mentioning is that the federal government previously played a role in discrediting against minorities, particularly African-Americans as a matter of law.

The Federal Housing Administration, for example, was among those that supported restrictive covenants...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: ...that did not allow people to lend in neighborhoods - to African-Americans. So they had an active role in suppressing the wealth accumulation of particular groups.

NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: And so you could make an argument that...

NAVARRETTE: And they over-corrected. And they over-corrected.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: Though that's their argument. Jimi, what do you think before we move on?

IZRAEL: Well, like I said, I think the numbers are kind of hinky because a lot of these households we're looking at just have a single earner. The single parent, they're headed by the single mom or just one person. So I don't know, the numbers are hinky. I...

MARTIN: So what are you saying? Are you saying that the real issue here is the marriage rates?

IZRAEL: I thought so...

MARTIN: Because Latinos get married and so do Asians. I mean black people get married too. I mean I'm married, you know, you're married.

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: But I'm just thinking in terms of the marriage rates and the prevalence of marriage, Latinos and Asian and Americans tend to have higher marriage rates, so why would their loss of net worth be as sharp, if that's what you are saying?

IZRAEL: Well, I don't know. Because maybe you have a wife that's employed and a husband that's not. But the other thing that I'm getting at is I think that very often, you know, people of color - and this is kind of an aside. But people of color are always the last people hired and first people fired. So, you know...

NAVARRETTE: Oh, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Yeah. So it doesn't surprise me...

NAVARRETTE: You said it.

IZRAEL: ...that these are the people that are broke. You know, so...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Yeah. I mean, you mean really? So you're...

NAVARRETTE: Right. Preach, brother. Preach.

IZRAEL: You're the last person hired, you're the first person fired and you're broke. Color me surprised, right?

IFTIKHAR: Right. Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAVARRETTE: Right. And that happens, Jimi's making a very important point. Understand this, this happens at all the way up the food chain.

IZRAEL: Sure.

NAVARRETTE: You can talk a lot about how it hurt folks at the lower levels. But you can have white-collar professional jobs in a lot of different industries whether it be law, investment banking, the media, whatever, and that same rule applies because at the end of the day it's every man for himself. And it won't surprise any folks to know that sometimes you end up with editorial boards and newspapers in this country that are all white. They didn't start out that way but when they started laying off the folks somehow, miraculously, the only people left over with white folks.

IZRAEL: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Right.

NAVARRETTE: Just, it's amazing. Imagine the odds. Imagine the odds.

MARTIN: I just want to stand up for the fact that I think there are...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: There's a lot of fun things about being a person of color. I just want to point that out.

IFTIKHAR: Oh right. Sure. I love it.

MARTIN: I don't want that vocation to be completely dire.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah we read that story.

MARTIN: I mean I don't want to start giving specific details about the things that...

NAVARRETTE: We rest in the speak on that, right. Right.

MARTIN: ...there's a lot of good things too. I just wanted to balance that. If you're just joining us, you're listening to our weekly Barbershop segment. We're joined by author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, columnist Mario Loyola, and syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. OK, switching gears to the deporter in chief. That's what Latino folks are calling President Obama.

MARTIN: That's so cold.

IFTIKHAR: True.

IZRAEL: I know, right?

IFTIKHAR: Jimi's in rare form today.

IZRAEL: His popularity. Many of them since - these deportations rose under his presidency. Now on Monday, he spoke at the national Council of La Raza conference in Washington. We've got some tape, right?

MARTIN: I think we do. Yeah, of course, La Raza, for people who aren't aware, is the largest Latino civil rights organization in the country. And he got, the president got huge support at their meeting in 2008, but this year the reaction was mixed and he got some, I don't know, you can hear for yourselves. Let me just play it. Let me just, let me just play it. He's talking here about the fact that he says that people think he can wave a magic wand and address immigration on his own and he says he can't. And I'll just play a short clip.

President BARACK OBAMA: Right now I'm dealing with Congress. The idea...

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING, YES YOU CAN)

OBAMA: Believe me, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: I promise you, not just on immigration reform.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: But that's not how our system works.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Change it.

(SOUNDBITE LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: That's not how our democracy functions.

MARTIN: And I don't know if you heard that last person. The person was saying change it. So I don't know. Ruben, you weren't there.

IZRAEL: So, wow.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

MARTIN: We, of course, had Janet Murguia, the CEO of La Raza on the program and she talked a little bit about this.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: But I don't know. Ruben, you actually wrote a tough column. Big shock about this.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah I wrote two. Yeah.

MARTIN: Two.

NAVARRETTE: Two tough columns, one for the syndicate before he spoke, before the president spoke, and one after he spoke talking, particularly paying a lot of this cred to these students who were in the room who were wearing these bright red shirts that said Obama deports dreamers, a reference to young kids who might be eligible for the Dream Act, which would allow kids, would allow college age kids to get legal status if they went to college or joined the military. So these are really bold folks and young kids out there who just - maybe they don't understand politics or maybe they understand it too well because they just think that President Obama can do more on this issue than he's doing.

Here are the main complaints basically: you have a million people who have been deported, about 1 million people plus 26,000 who've been reported since Obama took office. More people deported than any president since Dwight D. Eisenhower, and that goes all the way back to a program into like 1954 called Operation Wetback. That was the name of the program and it moved out a bunch of folks. Now you have to go all the way back to Ike to get the number similar to Obama's number.

The other problem is you have seen in the past presidents use executive power, whether it was Bill Clinton who said recently that if he were president he would raise the debt limit, you know, just by fiat, by executive power. You have the expansion of executive power under George Bush in sort of the anti-terror policies and the stuff that happened after 9/11. A lot of liberals wanted from Obama, not just Latinos, but liberals in general, wanted from Obama sort of a liberal version of Bush to go and use executive power this way, right, toward left-leaning causes. He hasn't done that. He has actually shrunk the presidency and he doesn't like using executive power at all for any issue even what the left wants him to.

And the last word on this is Latinos have seen their support for Obama drop-off. You know, they have two thirds of them voted for him. The concern now at the White House is not that they're going to go out and vote for Republicans because those people are ghastly in many cases towards Latinos and immigration issues. But they could just stay home. And if they stay home they hurt the president. So the president is a little worried about this.

I had a killer line, if I've got to say so myself. It got me a lot of heat. It got me a lot of heat in the CNN column. I said basically what you have here, this is a black president, this is a color scheme, a black president trying to reassure white voters by removing all the brown folks. Ba-da-bum.

MARTIN: That's harsh.

IZRAEL: Wow, that is tough.

MARTIN: Mario, what do you think?

LOYOLA: Well...

NAVARRETTE: As my brother says, it's hard but it's fair.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LOYOLA: I mean from a conservative...

IZRAEL: Thank you for that.

LOYOLA: From a conservative's point of view it's, you know, I'm not one of those people who - there's lots of conservatives obviously that say Obama's a liar and stuff just like, you know, liberals said of Bush during the Bush presidency. I don't think that he is dishonest from our point of view because he's arguing with us and he's, you know, he's engaged with us. But it's really remarkable when I hear Obama talking to his base voters how misleading he is to them. I mean that's something that, you know, he really...

MARTIN: What, misleading how? Misleading how? Go ahead. Tell me.

LOYOLA: Well, for example, in that same speech, you know, he says my number one priority every single day is to figure out how we can get businesses to hire and create jobs with decent wages. And but in reality, you know, he's proposing to tax the very people who are going to create those jobs. The Environmental Protection Agency is adopting one rule after another that is throwing thousands of people out of work. It's going to cost the economy hundreds of billions of dollars. Just a single rule out of the 32 rules that are coming into effect over the next two years is going to cost the American economy tens of billions of dollars with totally speculative environmental benefits.

MARTIN: Can I...

LOYOLA: The moratorium last year, the various moratoriums and permoratoriums on the Gulf Coast threw something like 20,000 people out of work.

MARTIN: OK, but that's one point of view about the role that regulation plays. I mean Arsalan, I think you probably have a different view of that.

IFTIKHAR: Well, I mean it's just...

MARTIN: And also what creates jobs. Go ahead.

IFTIKHAR: Sure. I mean...

MARTIN: All right.

IFTIKHAR: President Obama just can't catch a break. I mean, you know, whether you're talking from the right or from the left, you know, he is a president who has dedicated the first term of his presidency to try and lead by consensus. And I think that the obstructionist wing of the Republican Party has essentially said no to everything.

And so, you know, there is a reason that there is no political will for comprehensive immigration reform because all of the White House and even Democratic congressional leaders know that it's never going to get out. And so hopefully when we see Barack re-elected then we might see a little more forcefulness coming out.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Who laughed? Who just laughed? Somebody, Jimi?

IZRAEL: I laughed. I laughed. You know, it's a ...

MARTIN: Go ahead, Jimi.

IZRAEL: I'm going to laugh.

NAVARRETTE: Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive.

IZRAEL: Yeah, I know, right? No but...

IFTIKHAR: Somebody's got to, man.

IZRAEL: Obama supporters are so disappointed. First he couldn't turn water to wine. Now he can't, you know, wave a magic wand. Next thing you'll tell me he can't fly.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, we'll take Gatorade instead of wine right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Come on, man.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, Arsalan, I have to ask you about the trades, the big - finally the NFL and the players kissed and made up.

IFTIKHAR: That's right.

MARTIN: They came to an agreement on the collective bargaining agreement. There are still some details to be worked out on general health and safety issues and so forth like that.

IFTIKHAR: Yes. Sure.

MARTIN: But training camp, open.

IFTIKHAR: Training camp and free...

MARTIN: Lots of big trades.

IFTIKHAR: And free agency now that...

MARTIN: Free agency.

IFTIKHAR: Are you ready for some football? Because we've been waiting for this. So, you know, the big trades were Reggie Bush from the New Orleans Saints to the Miami Dolphins. Albert Haynesworth from the Redskins to the Patriots. Donovan McNabb now a Minnesota Viking. Kevin Kolb, quarterback, goes to the Arizona Cardinals. And then Sidney Rice and Tavaris Jackson move from Minnesota to Seattle. So we're going to see a lot of old faces in new places this year.

MARTIN: And you forgot the Steelers trading Antwaan Randle El after he helped them win what, two Super Bowls, three?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: I mean what's up with that? What's up with that?

IFTIKHAR: They have a solid wide receiver corps. And so, you know, they're probably going to try to fill some gaps in some other places.

MARTIN: Jimi, do you care?

IZRAEL: Well, you know, I care about Browns, you know...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: ...because it looks like a good - and it looks a good hungry team right out the gate. But I'm hoping that they can recruit either Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark after losing Eric Wright to the Detroit Lions. But, you know, when it comes to Browns football, you live in Cleveland long enough, you know, you'll get your heart broken if you get excited too soon. So you just, you got to take a wait-and-see attitude. But, you know, I'm hopeful.

MARTIN: Oh, OK. You're trying to keep it chill.

IZRAEL: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: All right. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of the book, "The Denzel Principle." He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist who writes for the Washington Post Writers Group, Latino magazine and Pajamas Media. He was with us from San Diego.

IFTIKHAR: Mario Loyola is director of the Center for 10th Amendment Studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. That's a think tank focused on the impact of federal policies on states. He's also a former speechwriter at the Pentagon and a columnist for the National Review. He was with us from member station KUT in Austin. And Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney, founder of themuslimguy.com and managing editor of the Crescent Post. He was here in Washington, D.C. Thanks guys.

Peace.

NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.