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Why The Right Should Make Immigration A Race Issue—And How


Over the past few years reports by BuzzFeed News and American Affairs described how some businesses try to hire low-wage immigrants over Americans. They post job ads, as required by the H-2 guest worker program, but in towns far from the job site. They ask for Spanish-speaking workers although the work is in a non-Hispanic area. They set strict requirements that only Americans must meet. Some flat-out say they never hire U.S. workers.

These practices have resulted in multiple complaints from Legal Aid, legal briefs filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and at least one instance of federal imprisonment.

Derrick Green was a casualty of these practices. In 2012 the father of six was fired by Hamilton Growers after just three weeks of picking squash. Green’s quick dismissal reflected a pattern. According to the EEOC, in 2009 Hamilton Growers fired or pushed out “the overwhelming majority” of Americans while few Mexican guest workers met that fate.

Something similar happened in 2010 and 2011. The next farm Green worked for also preferred guest workers over Americans, and he was fired after a few days.

Immigration Disproportionately Harms Blacks

Farms and other low-wage employers often argue they need low-wage immigrants to keep costs down. That argument, however, must be weighed against the fact that mass low-wage immigration hurts American workers, especially poorer ones. Research supports this idea.

A 2016 National Academy of Sciences report stated that “a high degree of consensus exists that specific groups are more vulnerable than others to inflows of new immigrants.” The NAS report identifies nine studies that show harms to Americans with low levels of education.

Given America’s racial politics, it makes sense that the left tends to ignore the racial dimensions of low-wage immigration. You see, Green, and most of the workers fired by Hamilton Growers, are black. Two-dozen black people also brought a lawsuit against J&R Baker Farms. A former employee said they “got rid of” their black workers in 2010. A supervisor at Hamilton Growers once allegedly said: “all you black American people, f— you all…just go to the office and pick up your check.”

Since blacks are disproportionately represented among poorly educated Americans, they bear the brunt of low-wage immigration. The left, which claims to be both pro-black Americans and pro-low-wage immigration, of course downplays this tension.

Conservatives also downplay this tension. We don’t highlight enough how much low-wage immigration harms poor African-Americans. This omission is political malpractice. Republican pollster Patrick Ruffini showed that speaking to working-class minorities—70 percent of whom don’t have a college degree—is the best way for Republicans to adapt a diversifying America. Simply put, we must become the party of the entire working class, not just the white working class.

Immigration Is the Place to Start

To get from here to there, conservatives should recognize that as long as it doesn’t cannibalize other ways of understanding our country, and that America’s worst moments don’t define us, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with using a racial lens. The fact that the left overuses this analysis does not mean we should underuse it.

Unfortunately, decades of missteps have made us inept at discussing race. Since we’re going to have to start doing so more, and to learn along the way, we should choose our battles carefully. When doing something new, you must crawl before you walk. We should thus engage on issues that play to our strengths and on which voters already trust us.

Low-wage immigration is perfect in this regard. We almost have no choice but to double down on the issue. Opposition to low-wage immigration will define conservatives for the indefinite future. So we may as well use it to reach black voters—the minority group we should prioritize outreach to.

Further, low-wage immigration is an issue we know how to discuss. When we engage with black Americans, we will be able to reframe a message we’re already good at delivering.

Conservatives also have well-fleshed out policies to address low-wage immigration. For all the intra-right disagreements, there is a conservative approach to immigration that can rely on decades of right-leaning policy research.

Yes, The Border Is a Race Issue

The political calculus is also simpler. Both the left and right agree that many blacks oppose low-wage immigration. So not only does this topic keep our coalition intact, it raises tension within the Democratic one. Especially since Democrats have gone all-in on open borders, blacks who care about this issue have only one viable option, unlike on issues such as lowering crime sentences.

Leftists act as if black politics consists only of police brutality, Civil War statues, and reparations. But low-wage immigration deeply affects blacks and should also be a black issue. It’s our job to make the connection.

Consider the liberal trope that American institutions are racist and were designed to hurt blacks. On hearing these arguments, conservatives usually just protest. Although protest may be necessary, it doesn’t have to end there. It would be smarter to concede that general point then pivot to immigration.

We should not be afraid of this concession. American slavery was uniquely evil, and its legacy has clearly shaped many American institutions. Although specific liberal arguments can be overwrought, this point is uncontroversial.

If all American institutions are rooted in slavery and discriminate against black people, that includes all institutions, including immigration policy. We should force liberals to explain why they have ignored this, and highlight that people who look like Green are the main victims of our anti-black immigration system.

E-Verify as Reparations

We must stress how much African-Americans need policies like border security and e-Verify. More than any other group, they need a tight low-wage labor market, and will benefit from conservative immigration policies. Leftist immigration policies have a profound disparate impact against blacks, something we should repeat mercilessly.

We can we also use immigration to expand the debates about reparations. African-Americans themselves don’t agree on what it means, and it’s often viewed as much more than cutting a check. Both scholars and activists argue that reparations must address “underlying structures.”

That is why social policies as diverse as voting rights, health care, housing policy, student debt, and small business loans have all been framed as reparations. Immigration is always missing from this sort of analysis. But if housing policy and health care can be viewed as reparations, then so can e-Verify. The RAISE Act is a much better reparations bill than anything Democrats have offered.

Join the Fight for Black Jobs

Centering black outreach on immigration is not just smart politics. Making these arguments will allow us to engage with race in America on our own terms. Instead of running away from the topic, we would broaden our national conversation. America would no longer able to reduce black people to the issues that leftists choose.

Black Americans have always debated how to best achieve economic progress. Many reasonably believe that fighting racism must lead this struggle. But other prefer to focus on socioeconomics directly. Perhaps nothing better illustrates this intra-black tension than the official name of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous 1963 gathering: March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

The point here is not to settle this dispute, but to highlight that African-Americans themselves disagree on whether fighting white racism is more important than fighting for black jobs. Democrats have chosen the first path. Until now we have chosen neither, which helps explain why we lose black voters by such a staggering margin.

But there is a sizable black market for the other path, and we should try to reach them. Nationalism and opposition to low-wage immigration will help. At its core, these positions are about valuing all Americans and their jobs before others. This message will resonate with many black Americans.