More on NPR in Charlotte, and a Reminder of Barbara Jordan

By Jerry Kammer on January 14, 2016

Yesterday we began our look at Sunday's NPR story about the ongoing immigration and economic booms in and around Charlotte, N.C. Reporter Rachel Martin noted that the booms are taking place as a study "ranked Charlotte dead last when it comes to economic mobility compared to other U.S. cities."

I'm wondering what's beneath the surface of the story, as Martin talked with the owner of a landscaping company who is obviously enjoying both booms. How much do his workers earn? How much do they rely on public services? Is this another case of immigration having the effect of privatizing profit and socializing loss?

Martin also took a look at the political side of the immigration boom, finding an interesting debate among Charlotte Republicans. Curiously, she did not note that the central question in that debate is how federal policy should respond to the undocumented, i.e. illegal, status of many immigrants.

Instead, Martin reported on the general question of whether Republicans should welcome the boom and not ask questions about legality. One man told her, "Republicans have been so concerned in the past about appealing to minorities, to Latinos and others, that they've forgotten their own principles. And now, they are out here saying again, 'We must have the big tent.' No, that will not work. For the most part, minorities are not going to vote for Republicans. You can count on that."

Martin found another who avoided the principle of legality and embraced the principle of welcome. "At some point we have to get over this 'we were here first' idea," he said. "Because we weren't. And we're better as a society when we are able to find a way for rising tides to lift all boats, not just the boats that look like us. And we have to move from the party of opportunity for just a few to opportunity for all."

Martin used that hopeful note to wrap up her story. "Opportunity for all is what Charlotte is all about," she said. "We heard that from Democrats, Republicans, and from independents. People here want to ride this economic wave as far as it will take them. And for many, that means welcoming anyone who wants to come and help make that happen."

I think Martin's close was simplistic. It was happy talk. It ignored the widening inequality that was part of the hook for her story. It ignored the reality that new immigrants often compete for jobs with more established immigrants, putting downward pressure on wages and widening inequality.

Barbara Jordan had something to say about that unpleasant reality when she was the chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform during the Clinton administration.

"The commission finds no national interest in continuing to import lesser-skilled and unskilled workers to compete in the most vulnerable parts of our labor force," said Jordan, a civil rights icon who was always concerned for the working poor. "American workers do not have adequate job prospects. We should make their task easier to find employment, not harder."

Sunday, January 17, is the 20th anniversary of Barbara Jordan's death. We will remember her remarkable life and work on this website. Our story will note that her legacy includes a clear-eyed view of the challenge of reforming immigration policy.

Said Barbara Jordan, "It is both a right and a responsibility of a democratic society to manage immigration so that it serves the national interest."