House Panel Has Lively Session on Illegals' Impact on Black Workers

By David North on March 2, 2011

The House of Representatives Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement held a lively but largely good-tempered discussion yesterday morning about the extent of the impact of illegal alien workers on the labor market experiences of blacks, particularly black men.

For the hearing announcement and links to witness statements see here.

Presiding was Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA), the new chair of the subcommittee; also very much present were the new chair of the parent Judiciary Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and the ranking member (and former chair) of the parent organization, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI).

Two of the three black witnesses said that the impact of the illegals on the wages and unemployment rates of blacks was significant and tough enforcement was needed to prevent it from getting worse. They were Dr. Frank L. Morris, a retired college professor and a member of the board at CIS, speaking for Progressives for Immigration Reform, and Dr. Carol Swain, Professor of Political Science and Law at Vanderbilt University.

Taking an opposing view was the dean of the civil rights lobbyists in Washington, Wade Henderson, President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and Human Rights.

Rounding out the panel was a witness I had never heard before (or heard of). He was George Rodriguez, the President of the San Antonio Tea Party. I was not sure what position he would take, as there is a streak of libertarianism in some parts of the Tea Party. He said that most citizen Hispanics in the U.S. were fed up with illegal aliens, and resented the fact that multi-generation Hispanic American citizens were identified with the illegals. He strongly supported more vigorous enforcement of the immigration laws.

Looking back at the two-hour session, I would say that five themes occupied most of the conversation. They were:

  1. Increased immigration, including increased illegal immigration, has adversely affected black workers, notably black men.

  2. The reply was that the high unemployment rates, and low wages, of many black men reflect a much more complicated set of dynamics, including centuries of discrimination.

  3. Republicans making argument #1, some Democrats said, while showing a lot of support for the black unemployed in the immigration setting, rarely vote for progressive programs, such as higher minimum wages or better educational programs, for the same people.

  4. Mexican American citizens do not like to be lumped with illegal aliens, and

  5. Black PhDs take some risks when they disagree publicly with black members of Congress.

Some interesting specifics emerged as well.

The vice chairman of the subommittee, Rep. Steve King (R-IA), said something that I have often heard from labor leaders, but rarely from GOP House members: what workers need is a tight labor market. He is a strong supporter of tough enforcement.

Dr. Morris pointed out that the government had double standards regarding the enforcement of two different laws, and the combination of these emphases had been very hard on black males. The government vigorously enforces drug (particularly crack cocaine) laws, putting a lot of young blacks in jail, but only casually enforces employer sanctions, thus indirectly shutting many blacks out of jobs.

He, alone, made the point that there were many negative impacts on black workers from both massive illegal and legal immigration.

Dr. Swain quoted Harvard's Professor George Borjas, as did the chair, regarding Borjas's studies of the impact of migrants on blacks in the labor market. She said that Borjas had found that a "10% immigration-induced increase in the supply of a particular skill group reduced the black wage by 3%, lowered the employment rate of black men by about 5 percentage points, and increased the incarceration rate of blacks by a percentage point."

Speaking of Harvard, one of the lighter moments came when the chairman, while introducing Henderson, said that he had attended Harvard University; Henderson said that the chairman had meant Howard University. The chairman then apologized and (tongue in cheek) said he had not meant to slander Henderson by his error.

Henderson used his opportunities to testify to support a wide range of progressive proposals that would be helpful to blacks, such as stronger schools, better economic opportunities, and an end to discrimination.

Conyers warned against doing anything (apparently including holding this hearing) that might pit Hispanic and black workers against each other.

Things rocked along on a pretty even keel until right at the end, when Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) finally got her five minutes. A black member of the House from Los Angeles and a strong advocate of "comprehensive immigration reform", she said that she did not think the hearing was a very good idea, and did not want to ask any questions. She just wanted to make a statement, which she read quickly and angrily.

Though I did not understand the details, given her verbal style, Waters was quite specifically peeved with CIS, with CIS's executive director (Mark Krikorian who was sitting quietly in the audience), and with something he had written on immigration policy.

Her displeasure with Dr. Swain, however, was much more vividly stated and easier to follow. She said that there were too many "undocumented arguments" made at the hearing, and she said that one of them had been Dr. Swain's reference to a Pew Hispanic Center report that showed that "foreign born workers have gained employment [during the recent recession] while native workers continued to lose jobs."

Then, with her statement finished, Waters got up and left the hearing room abruptly. It was only after she had departed that Dr. Swain was given 30 seconds to say that the Pew Report was described in her written testimony, presented to the subcommittee earlier, and cited in a footnote. (It can be found here.)

Dr. Swain had been given a hard time last year by the then-chair, Rep. Conyers at a subcommittee hearing dominated by comedian Stephen Colbert, and described in an earlier blog of mine. Yesterday Conyers was again quite forceful with her but a little less hostile.

He challenged the two Black PhDs (Morris and Swain) to defend the Congressional Black Caucus against the charge that it had lost touch with its constituents on immigration issues. Both said nice things about CBC, but would not make the requested defense. (Dr. Morris had been the chief executive of an affiliate of the CBC a few years earlier.)

Of the 13 members of the subcommittee (including the chair and the ranking member of the full committee) I think all but one were in attendance at some point in the hearing. I do not recall a single Democrat acknowledging a significant negative impact of illegal aliens on black workers, while all the Republicans supported that view.