Image by John Moore

Story by John House/Daily Beast

Immigration is among the most wrenching political questions of the 2024 election. Yet, when Congress resumes debate on border security in January, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has an obligation to act on behalf of its base. That’s because the Black community is disproportionately impacted by the current policy on immigration—and the unpredictable border surges of “asylum seekers.”

To date, the body of 60 members—three Senate Democrats, 55 voting House Democrats and two non-voting—has been missing in action. The skirting of duty is largely the result of being beholden to campaign money, business support, and Hispanic and progressive factions of the party. Now is the time for the dereliction to stop.

CBC members must shed their reticence and shine a spotlight on the mean correlation between the rising levels of immigration and the declining fortunes of Black workers, particularly men.

For example, the authors of “Immigration and the Economic Status of African-American Men,” a 2010 study published in the journal Economia, concluded, “We find a strong correlation between immigration, black wages, black employment rates, and black incarceration rates. As immigrants disproportionately increased the supply of workers in a particular skill group, the wage of black workers in that group fell, the employment rate declined, and the incarceration rate rose.”

In the years since, the surge of economic immigration has eroded the standing of Black labor even more. It caused T. Willard Fair, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Miami, to write an op-ed in The Philadelphia Tribune where he questioned the pernicious loyalty of the CBC to the Democratic Party’s immigration policy:

“The lasting effects of uncontrolled, mass immigration on Black Americans are plainly obvious and have been well-documented throughout our country’s history,” he lamented in the March 2022 commentary. “So how can any Black politician in good conscience advocate for a more expansive immigration policy that would continue to do us harm?”

Clearly, the CBC has a duty to protect the interests of the over 18 million Black Americans it represents, even if it cuts against the grain of the party. No doubt this is a tricky subject for Black Democrats because many take pride in a legacy of supporting non-discriminatory immigration policy. The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which opened doors for legal immigration from Asia and Eastern and Southern Europe, is among such civil rights accomplishments.

In addition, the CBC has expressed solidarity with the plight of immigrants as “people of color,” even though immigrants from predominantly Black countries account for about 575,000 of the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally.

Photographs of migrants being dropped off in New York City
Dozens of migrant families are seen arriving from Texas at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City early September 6, 2023.

When Congress returns, the CBC must herald how their people are under duress from the helter-skelter border crossings, unclear enforcement policies, red state busing of asylum seekers to blue state sanctuary cities, unpredictable competition for jobs and housing, and lack of progress on immigration reform.

It means acknowledging the failure of the Biden administration to secure the border—but helping it to find a way forward. To start, it would be prudent to untangle the meaning of popular terms used by the press to describe the border dynamics. For example, most people on the border are permanent economic immigrants. As such, they are not “migrants” in the normal understanding of the word and should not be treated as such.

The term “migrants” typically refers to a mass movement of workers within a country, such as the westward migrations of white farmers known as “Okies” during the Great Depression, or the relocation of Black sharecroppers to the urban factories during the World Wars. Such is not the case for the economically distressed populations passing through Mexico, Central America, Venezuela, Cuba, and Haiti, as described by Project Hope, a non-governmental organization that assists health care workers with crises.

Rather than seeking political asylum, most are seeking to take advantage of legal loopholes to bypass the normal immigration process. They freely express a desire for access to work, housing, and permanent residency. They speak of wanting to take care of their families, even as their shortcuts threaten to torpedo American workers.

‘Taking from Peter to Feed Paul’

America’s history of favorable treatment for immigrants is a window into the status of race and labor in our culture. Black American workers have been diminished by pro-immigration policies ever since slave labor built the country into an economic powerhouse. For example, America used preferential land and labor enticements to recruit European immigrants in the mid-19th century.