Portraying African Americans As Anti-Immigrant: What NumbersUSA Doesn’t Want You To Notice

Our guest blogger is Daniella Gibbs Leger, Vice President for New American Communities Initiatives at the Center for American Progress.

Every election cycle is different, but there are a few tried and true tactics that get pulled out every year. One of the most annoying and cynical ones is the efforts by opponents of immigration reform to put a wedge between the African American community and Latinos. NumbersUSA is an anti-immigrant group that has a history of producing racist ads aimed at causing controversy and division. They are fond of running ads portraying black people as hostile to immigration because, as their story goes, immigrants take away jobs from black people. Their goal is to pull African American support away from pro-immigration candidates and ballot initiatives like the Maryland DREAM Act.

Groups like NumbersUSA don’t let little things like the facts get in their way. For one, there is strong support for immigrants within the African American community. Earlier this year, a coalition of prominent African American clergy from across the country who supported immigration reform joined with Hispanic clergy to push for reform. In April, the NAACP and other African American groups teamed with immigration activists to not only commemorate the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, but also to speak out against Alabama’s severe, anti-immigrant HB56 law. In Maryland, 70 percent of African Americans voters support the “Dream Act.” And across the country, Black legislators have led the fight against harsh Arizona-style bills. Civil Rights leaders and members of the Congressional Black Caucus have stood firmly on the side of pro-immigrant groups because they understand the pain of discrimination and that racism and injustice must be fought no matter where it is found.

Second, immigration is a net positive on our economy. In just one example, if Congress actually passed the DREAM Act, the qualified undocumented immigrants who became legal residents could actually pursue higher education, get higher salaries, spend more and pay more taxes. The economic impact of this alone with be $329 billion and 1.4 million new jobs by 2030.

And third, while the Black unemployment rate is unacceptably high, it is not something that can be pinned on immigration. This isn’t something that just happened once immigration started picking up. Going back decades, Black unemployment has generally been about double that of the White population. If you look at the employment of Blacks and Whites on a graph, they will move up and down with each other, but they will never meet. It is undoubtedly true that some unscrupulous employers use the vulnerability of undocumented immigrants to undercut their existing workforce. But that is a problem addressed by enforcing labor laws against abusive employers and by reforming our immigration laws so that employers cannot lord immigration status over them.

It’s easy to point to high unemployment and the justified anxiety it creates and then launch into the blame game to further your political agenda. But if these groups were serious, we’d be having a real conversation about why African American unemployment is so high and what can be done about it. If conservative groups were really interested in bringing down the Black unemployment rate, they wouldn’t support cuts to programs that support job training or the candidates who propose them.

If there was one thing that really bothered me about the presidential debates, it was that none of them touched on the employment, wage and wealth gaps between people of color and Whites. As we race towards 2050 when there will be no clear ethnic majority in this nation, it is critical to ensure that the communities that are growing the fastest see their disparities dissipate. It’s not just beneficial to African Americans – it will help guarantee a prosperous America in the future. If NumbersUSA was really concerned about the plight of the African American worker, they would put their money into real advocacy and not racist ads. But don’t be fooled. They don’t care. They are only interested in fear mongering and pushing their anti-immigrant stance. They’re just hoping we don’t notice.