Saturday, April 1, 2017

Illegal Immigration and Discrimination against Black American Men

With Donald Trump's election there has been a sharp shift in interior and border enforcement against unlawfully resident foreign nationals (illegal immigrants). Per Trump's directives, most of the people detained so far by ICE have been people with felony records and/or previously existing orders of removal. Many people, American or not, fiercely oppose the new Administration's policy changes. Some folks demand that there be not a single more deportation. Others have dropped their pretenses and now insist that the US have open borders. Scarcely a day goes by without one of the major newspapers of record (New York Times, Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, etc) featuring a story, editorial or column decrying the possible removal of illegal immigrants. Some people have drawn analogies between deportations and the US enslavement of Africans or the Holocaust. There have been multiple demonstrations and even a few disturbances here or there. But many people have overlooked the impact that illegal immigration can have on American citizens. This is a story from December of 2016 but it's still quite timely in my view. 

A group of African-American men filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Chicago federal court alleging systematic discrimination by a temporary staffing agency and several of its clients they say passed over black applicants in favor of Hispanic workers. The alleged discrimination took place at MVP Staffing's Cicero branch office, which the lawsuit claims was directed by clients not to send African-American workers to their companies for assignments.
Those wishes allegedly were communicated using code words, according to testimony from former dispatchers and on-site representatives given in prior cases and attached to the filing as evidence. For example, according to the lawsuit, "guapos," which translates to pretty boys, would be used to refer to African-Americans to suggest they don't want to do dirty work. The terms "feos" (translated to mean "dirty ones")," "bilingues" (bilinguals) and "los que escuchan La Ley" (referring to people who listen to Spanish-language radio station La Ley) were used to refer to Hispanic laborers, the lawsuit alleges.

Christopher Williams of Workers' Law Office, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said such a model is prevalent in the fast-growing temporary staffing industry, where competition between agencies puts pressure to keep wages low. An immigrant-dominated workforce, with language barriers and legal status concerns, is less likely to complain about failure to pay overtime, workplace injuries, wage theft or overwork, according to Williams. He described dozens of white vans that pick people up in the Little Village neighborhood, populated mostly by Mexican immigrants, and drive them to the suburbs for jobs, while black applicants will show up early at the agency office and wait all day before being told there's no work.  "They get up early, they make their way there, they get there on the promise that there might be work for them," Williams said. "And they watch as it changes from a very mixed room in the morning to mostly African-Americans left in the afternoon."

Williams, who has filed several federal discrimination lawsuits against individual companies before Tuesday's class action, said the complaints have spurred some staffing agencies to hire more African-Americans, but cultural issues inside the companies create a revolving door. Because of the emphasis on Hispanic recruiting, often the company plant managers and assembly line leaders are Hispanic as well, and "they didn't want them there," Williams said.

Norman Green, one of the five plaintiffs, said he has felt the discrimination at MVP and other staffing agencies in Chicago. He described arriving at the agency early, around 4 or 5 a.m., with his steel-toe boots on and ready to work, signing his name at the top of a check-in paper. He said he would sit for hours and wait while Hispanics would arrive and be sent out to work sites right away. But the agencies would tell him to come back, he said, so he would borrow from money from friends and family to make the trip and get there early only to sit and wait again.

"A lot of black people just sitting there mad that they can't work," said Green, 33, who lives in the East Garfield Park neighborhood. When he has gotten jobs he feels everyone is talking about him in Spanish, and "it's just uncomfortable." Green said the pattern, based on the perception that blacks don't want to work, is "clear-as-day racist" and unfairly applied to him even though "every time I walk into a temp agency I work my butt off."

Kevin James, 29, one of the named plaintiffs in the suit, said he had applied for work through MVP on roughly 20 occasions but had been given a job only once. He sat in the MVP office waiting in vain while Hispanic applicants got assignments, he said. On the one occasion when Mr. James was given a job, he said, he was sent to a packaging company where supervisors were hostile toward him, “hovering” over him and other black employees as they worked. “It just seemed like a lot of tension, like they didn’t really want me to be there,” Mr. James said. He added that the staff of the MVP office in Cicero “was mainly Mexicans” and that the employees were not welcoming toward African-American job seekers. “I’d say the whole staff was Mexican,” he said. “It was like the whole thing was built up mainly around Hispanics." 

The code words were in Spanish because “all of the managers” who refused to hire African-Americans were Hispanic, Ms. Ceja said. Some would try to conceal their request by saying they wanted only employees who listened to 107.9 FM, a Spanish-language radio station in the Chicago area. “That was a code word for us to only send Mexicans,” she said. The vast majority of Hispanic job applicants served by MVP were in the United States illegally, Ms. Ceja added, and their vulnerability made them attractive short-term workers. “That makes it harder for them to complain or do anything,” she said. “They are so scared to raise their voice and say, ‘Hey, this is not fair.’” Ms. Ceja said MVP employees would start the day by separating Hispanic job applicants from African-Americans. They would enter the Hispanic applicants’ contact information into a database so they could be easily reached when jobs opened up. African-American applicants rarely received the same treatment, she said: They were usually instructed to go to an MVP office at dawn to wait for assignments that rarely came.


This story didn't get much attention. It doesn't fit the preferred narrative. But this news ought to make Black American citizens rethink automatic support for illegal immigrants. Increased labor supply can cause some wage suppression. And it adds insult to injury to have people who aren't supposed to be in this country in the first place start discriminating against and/or becoming the beneficiaries of discrimination against Black Americans. Black Americans -particularly Black American men- have the highest rate of unemployment in the nation. And the state of Illinois has the highest rate of Black unemployment. Now despite stories like this Black people as a group may still support "immigration reform" and oppose any deportations. I would disagree with that stance but everyone has to make up their own mind. But simple dignity and self-interest would indicate that it makes no sense to battle for those who are not only your competitors but are also discriminating against you in the exact same way as white employers do. At the very least Black people who want to fight and die on the hill of "immigration reform" should demand reciprocity from those other ethnic groups when it comes to supporting Black interests like fair hiring practices, police reform, etc. That's not happening now. You won't see MSNBC or CNN analysts beating the drums on this story. Even more pathetically you won't even see the Congressional Black Caucus talking about this. 

Many supporters of illegal immigration will say that people shouldn't be fighting over crumbs or that any adult who has to take a $8/hr temporary job should blame himself for being a loser. I would respond that a job is not a crumb. Unless you happen to own the means of production and/or are in the 1% you need to have a job. Even if you have a job paying six or seven figures or more you can still be fired. You might need to do temp work until you can find something better.  And finding something better might take a while. Black middle class status can be precarious. There is nothing wrong with Black Americans, who have borne the brunt of historical and current discrimination in America, putting their own interests first, just like every other group. There is something wrong with pretending that your interests are the same as someone else's when they rather clearly diverge.
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