Will Immigration Amnesty Hurt African Americans?

As the U.S. immigration debate comes to a boil, many African Americans are wondering what reform will mean for their community. T. Willard Fair, President and CEO of the National Urban League of Greater Miami, talks to Farai Chideya about what unites and divides African Americans and immigrants.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

And our last headline brings us to the border. Yesterday, the Senate agreed to, well, keep disagreeing over a new immigration bill. If it becomes law - and that is a big if - the bill would grant legal status to 12 million undocumented workers now living in the U.S. It would also stiffen border controls and crack down on employers who hire workers illegally. But who's looking at the issue from an African-American perspective? Well, in a moment, we'll speak with a member of the Congressional Black Caucus who says the new bill is not going to hurt African-Americans.

First, though, a very different point of view. T. Willard Fair is president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Miami. Thank you for coming on the show, sir.

Mr. T. WILLARD FAIR (President and CEO, Urban League of Greater Miami): Thank you.

CHIDEYA: So what are your thoughts on this, just the broad debate about immigration?

Mr. FAIR: Well, my position is very clear, and that is that if we allow 12 million illegal immigrants to become citizens overnight, then by that decision we confine black America to a permanent underclass.

CHIDEYA: What have you seen in Miami, which obviously has a diverse population of Latino and black and immigrant populations?

Mr. FAIR: Well, it's not just in Miami. It's all over the country. It's about numbers, and the numbers are out of kilter. It's about whether or not you can deal with the issue of supply and demand. And when you do it from this aspect, then those who are at the bottom of the run get pushed down further when you bring in hundreds of thousands of people.

CHIDEYA: You've been quoted in an ad saying the black working class, quote, "must be made whole before there is any discussion of amnesty or guest worker programs." Now, you called these amnesties a slap in the face to black Americans, an economic disaster. What do you really mean by that? What do you think is going to happen?

Mr. FAIR: Well, I think once again one has to only look at Miami and (unintelligible) where would black Miami had we not had the kind of mass immigration that we had here? There's no doubt that as we look at all the research that's been done by academicians from around the country from some of the most renowned institutions of higher learning, from Harvard to Northeastern University, that the data speaks for itself. We are impacted adversely. Miami experience tells us that the economic and political prosperity of black folks has not progressed as it has in other communities, and the one constant variable is the overwhelming imbalance of the numbers.

CHIDEYA: Let me ask you about other variables, though. I mean, there are questions of how good the education system is, why aren't African-Americans, so many years after the civil rights movement, able to access educational equality, equality in the job market. Do you think that in addition to discussing...

Mr. FAIR: That's another discussion, though. You're talking about...

CHIDEYA: So you see them as separate, not at all joined.

Mr. FAIR: Absolutely. It's another discussion.

CHIDEYA: All right. Well, give us your thoughts on this new immigration compromise. Do you think that it's going to work?

Mr. FAIR: No, I don't think it's going to work at all. A compromise that grants any form of amnesty - no matter how you try to dress it up, is still amnesty. To think that we can come up with a piece of legislation that's going to fit everybody's desire is impossible. And at the end of the day, once again, the victims are going to be black Americans.

CHIDEYA: So earlier this month, you delivered a paper to the Judiciary Committee. It was called "Mass Immigration and Black America," and you talked a great deal about the immigration impact on the black American male in particular. Tell us how you see this issue kind of breaking down by gender for black men versus black women.

Mr. FAIR: Well, if you look at some of the recent studies, the most recent one done by Dr. George Borjas, who did a piece called "Increasing the Supply of Labor Through Immigration," and I think it's measuring the impact on native-born workers. His research pointed out very closely that mass immigration lowers wages, especially for the less educated workers. And he pointed out that when you talk about mass immigration, it cuts the income of American men of all races without a high school degree by $1,800. If you dig deeper into that, you find that the bulk of the men without high school education is 18 to 29; two-thirds of those are young blacks. So the math tells you very simply that if that's the reality, then the greatest impact is going to be on black males.

CHIDEYA: Well, T. Willard Fair, lots of provocative issues. Thank you so much for coming on.

Mr. FAIR: Hey, the pleasure's mine. Thank you for having us.

CHIDEYA: T. Willard Fair is president and CEO of the National Urban League of Greater Miami.

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