From The Grio — A hearing in the House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement on Tuesday received a sharp rebuke from Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, who accused Republicans on the committee of trying to use immigration to drive a wedge between communities of color.
“I am concerned by the Majority’s attempt to manufacture tension between the African American and immigrant communities,” Cleaver’s statement read. “It seems as though they would like for our communities to think about immigration in terms of ‘us vs. them’, and I reject that notion.”
The third immigration hearing since January focused on whether illegal immigration contributes to higher jobless rates among black and Hispanic Americans.
“When employers hire foreign workers who will work for less than American workers, Americans lose jobs,” committee chairman, Rep. Elton Gallegly (CA) said in his opening statement. “Importing millions of poorly educated foreign workers won’t help our country, but instead will only hinder its growth.”
The hearing comes at an awkward time for the GOP, which despite historic gains in the U.S. House and statehouses around the country in 2010 faces the prospect of a younger, browner electorate in 2012.
As one Republican Congressman told Politico’s Jonathan Martin for a recent article:
The electorate will look much different in 2012 than it did in 2010,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who was a political operative for decades before coming to Congress. “It’s going to be younger, browner, and more to the left.
While nationally, Republicans rarely enjoy more than minimal support from black voters, their weakness among Hispanics is especially problematic, given that Hispanic voters are the fastest growing demographic, and given the harsh anti-immigration policies Republicans are proposing in states like Arizona.
Gallegly, who became the subcommittee chairman when the House leadership passed over controversial Congressman Steve King, has occasionally attracted attention for his immigration views. Since 1991, he has introduced multiple bills that would change the 14th Amendment to strip the American-born children of illegal immigrants of their birthright citizenship. All of the bills failed.
Tuesday’s hearing seemed designed to re-frame the Republican immigration message in terms of jobs, rather than inflammatory proposals like Gallegly’s.
In his statement, the chairman cited high rates of unemployment for blacks and Hispanics: 15.7 percent and 11.9 percent, respectively — as well as a 2006 study by Harvard University professors George Borjas and Lawrence Katz, which stated that a 10 percent increase in the supply of a particular skill group due to immigration, “reduced the black wage in that skill group by 3.6 percent,” and “lowered the employment rate of black men by 2.4 percentage points.”
However, the Borjas study made no distinction between legal and illegal immigration, and it is difficult to quantify when and where native and illegal immigrant communities actually compete for the same jobs, though in the case of jobs like construction and food service, it seems likely that in some instances, they do.