Immigration’s Impact on Black Americans: A 200-Year Chronology

Parsing Immigration Policy, Episode 31

By Mark Krikorian and Roy Beck on December 2, 2021

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The passage of landmark immigration legislation in 1965 marked the beginning of the largest sustained wave of immigration in America’s history. This immigration surge, however, was not the first. Immigration surged in the decades leading up to the American Civil War and again starting in the 1880s before being curtailed by war and then by restrictive legislation in the 1920s. Large-scale immigration such as this has important implications for the social, political, and economic conditions in the United States. One widely overlooked implication is the economic harm imposed on Black Americans.

In this week’s episode of Parsing Immigration Policy, Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, discusses the connection between immigration policy, the labor market, and the economic progress of Black Americans. Beck highlights some of the key points made in his new book, “Back of the Hiring Line: A 200-year history of immigration surges, employer bias, and depression of Black wealth”.

Beck works his way through 200 years of American history highlighting the times when an endless supply of cheap, foreign labor corresponded to low employment and low wages for the Black community and inversely when moderate, controlled immigration produced a tight labor market resulting in increased wages and wealth. During the tight labor market that preceded the 1965 reform, everyone profited – the middle class and the poor – but the Black poor’s income grew twice as fast as the white poor’s, making this time period the one with the greatest economic progress for Blacks. Beck also contends that this time of wealth growth contributed to the civil rights successes of the 1960s.

In his closing commentary, Mark Krikorian, the Center’s executive director and host of Parsing Immigration Policy, discusses the news that the Biden administration is deporting by air a small percentage of family units which have been apprehended at the border. As expected, even this minor enforcement action is having an effect on the number of migrants traveling to the border – i.e., enforcement works.


Mark Krikorian, Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies


Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA


Immigration and Black Americans: Assessing the Impact

Testimony Before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

Time to Discuss Impact of Immigration on Inner City Blacks


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Intro Montage

Voices in the opening montage:

  • Sen. Barack Obama at a 2005 press conference.
  • Sen. John McCain in a 2010 election ad.
  • President Lyndon Johnson, upon signing the 1965 Immigration Act.
  • Booker T. Washington, reading in 1908 from his 1895 Atlanta Exposition speech.
  • Laraine Newman as a "Conehead" on SNL in 1977.
  • Hillary Clinton in a 2003 radio interview.
  • Cesar Chavez in a 1974 interview.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaking to reporters in 2019.
  • Prof. George Borjas in a 2016 C-SPAN appearance.
  • Sen. Jeff Sessions in 2008 comments on the Senate floor.
  • Charlton Heston in "Planet of the Apes".