What was true during the Eisenhower administration remains true today. If allowed to, the unscrupulous will always exploit the vulnerable. To quote from Pierre Tristam’s Daytona Beach New-Journal article “Operation Wetback: Illegal Immigration’s Golden-Crisp Myth, “‘Illegals’ are the most despised, most abused, most punished and most condemned for the problem. But they’re the least to blame … they’re busboys to America’s extravagance.”
Between Operation Wetback and today, a nearly-forgotten commission on illegal immigration convened by President Harry S. Truman came closest to solving the real problem. The bill that came out of the commission’s work advocated better wages for migrant laborers and strictly regulated working conditions, with Federal agents raiding workplaces to verify employers’ documentation of fair pay and humane working conditions instead of the legality of the workers. The rationale for the bill was that by eliminating the advantage of hiring illegal immigrants, the demand for their services would disappear. Neither employers nor employees would have incentive to break the law. Yet the farmers of the Southwest, the ones who would have paid the highest price for this reform had this bill become law, lobbied for its defeat–and won.
As long as businesses benefit from the labor of undocumented immigrants, politicians will continue to pander to the public outcry for unrealistic solutions such as wall building and mass deportations, while legitimate immigration reform remains stalled and the economic progress of blacks and the civil rights of the undocumented will continue to take a back seat.
The real enemy is anyone–in business, in government, in power–who turns a blind eye to many in the black community who are still crippled by poverty and the hopelessness it brings, while at the same time willfully ignoring the plight of undocumented immigrants who are powerless and too afraid to defend themselves. In reference to the Civil Rights movement, Alberto Quintelas said, “ … you didn’t do it alone. Lawyers from other communities, a lot of Jewish lawyers in particular, were there [in Selma and Montgomery] to help you succeed. … you didn’t do it alone, so we’re asking for your help on this issue. Regardless of our political leanings, people are hurting and we need your help.” Uniting against that common enemy would improve both groups’ prospects.
We need each other right now. And we need only look about 500 miles south of the Twin Cities to see how effective black/Latino unity can be. In Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Mark Funkhouser named Frances Semler, an active member of the Minutemen, as a Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners appointee. Had Funkhauser done the proper vetting prior to the appointment, he would have learned of Semlers’s association with the controversial group that is known for conducting armed patrols of the US-Mexico border and is accused of sowing division and fear by the picketing of day-labor sites and portraying undocumented immigrants as criminals and terrorists.
When Semler’s affiliation was made public and she offered her resignation, Funkhouser refused to accept it, citing her right to freedom of speech. The move pitted almost every city leader, business and civic organizations and even the City Council against the Mayor’s appointment. The situation even drew the critical eye of the national media and has been blogged about ad nauseum by those of every imaginable political and social stripe. (Google “Frances Semler” and you’ll get some 50,900 results.) By the time Funkhauser accepted Semler’s resignation in January 2008, two outraged Civil Rights groups, La Raza and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, had already pulled their scheduled annual conventions from Kansas City, costing a city with a $70 million budget deficit approximately $5 to $7 million in lost revenue.
United together for the cause of civil rights, Latinos and African Americans can influence great change in their own best interests.