An anti-immigrant group, dubiously named Progressives For Immigration Reform (PFIR), released a 30-second ad this week seizing on anxiety over African-American joblessness and Hurricane Katrina to slam on prospects of immigration reform. The PFIR ad criticizes the President and some Louisiana lawmakers for endorsing “amnesty for millions of illegal aliens.” Suggesting that immigration reform could strip jobs away from African Americans is a political tactic employed time and again by anti-immigrant groups to manufacture tension between blacks and immigrants.
African Americans were devastated by Hurricane Katrina, devastated by joblessness with the Great Recession. Now we face another challenge — our own President. He wants to double immigration and bring in millions more immigrant workers to take jobs, when many of us still can’t find jobs. He wants amnesty for millions of illegal aliens who will take jobs too. Ask Louisiana’s leaders where they stand on millions more immigrant workers.
Driving a wedge between the African-American community and immigrants is nothing new. Before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, an immigration-restrictionist group released an ad suggesting that the civil rights leader would not approve of immigration reform because of high unemployment rates among the African-American community. Another Tanton Network organization, NumbersUSA, came out with an ad portraying African Americans as hostile to immigration in 2012. As Daniella Gibbs Léger at the Center for American Progress pointed out at the time, “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,” a reality influenced by economic factors and not by increased immigrant employment. Studies find that African Americans are three times more likely than non-African American workers to “change their relative task specialization” — in other words, transition to higher-skilled jobs — as a result of immigration.
PFIR has a storied anti-immigrant history that is anything but progressive. As Imagine 2050 noted, “PFIR aims to make the anti-immigrant movement’s nativism palatable for environmentally minded liberals.” The group has ties to the nativist John Tanton Network, designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Imagine 2050 also found a group photo of PFIR’s executive director Leah Durant posing with two anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic individuals at a 2009 writer’s workshop put on by The Social Contract Press, known for publishing provocative, anti-immigrant, and sometime racist works. Durant also worked as an attorney for another anti-immigrant Tanton organization called the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform (FAIR).
The wedge tactic has especially gained traction among anti-immigrant congressional members like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) who recently told the conservative-leaning Breitbart News that African Americans would be economically impacted by the passage of immigration reform. Arguing that immigration reform would hurt the African-American labor force, Sessions cited a widely-panned study which found that immigrants could take jobs away from low-skilled workers, many of whom are African-Americans.
Sessions previously voted in support of “an ultimately unsuccessful effort to end affirmative action programs in the federal government (a measure so extreme that many conservatives were against it), he opposed hate-crimes laws, and he opposed a motion to investigate the disproportionate number of minorities in juvenile detention centers,” New Republic’s Sarah Wildman wrote in 2002. Sessions was once quoted as labeling the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as “un-American” and “Communist-inspired.”