POLITICS

Martin Luther King’s widow lobbied against immigration reform in 1991

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Sean Higgins

The restrictionist Center for Immigration Studies has dug up a fascinating artifact from the 1991 congressional debate over immigration reform. It is a letter by a group of civil rights and labor leaders including Correta Scott King, widow of the slain 1960s icon, urging Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to drop plans to introduce legislation to repeal employer sanctions for hiring illegal immigrants.

Pro-immigration activists had been clamoring for the legislation ever since the 1986 reform legislation that Reagan signed. They argued that the employers were using the threat of sanctions to discriminate against immigrants in hiring. Hatch was about to drop legislation repealing the sanctions when he received a letter dated July 9, 1991, from Mrs. King on behalf of the Black Leadership Forum. You can read a pdf of the letter here.

King and others warn that Hatch’s proposed legislation “will cause another problem — the revival of the pre-186 discrimination against black and brown U.S. and documented workers, in favor of cheap labor — the undocumented workers. This will undoubtedly exacerbate an already severe economic crisis in communities where there are large numbers of new immigrants.”

They elaborate:

[W]e are concerned that some who support the repeal of employer sanctions are using “discrimination” as a guise for their desire to abuse undocumented workers and to introduce cheap labor into the U.S. workforce. America does not have a labor shortage. With roughly 7 million people unemployed, and double that number discouraged from seeking work, the removal of employer sanctions threatens to add additional workers to the rolls of the unemployed. Additionally it would add to competition for scarce jobs and drive down wages. Moreover, the repeal of employer sanctions will inevitably add to our social problems and place an unfair burden on the poor in the cities in which most  new immigrants cluster — cities which are already suffering housing shortages and insufficient human needs services.

Later in the letter, they add:

While not a panacea for the nation’s illegal immigration problems, employer sanctions are one necessary means of stopping the exploitation of vulnerable workers and the undercutting of American jobs and living standards.

In addition to King, the letter is signed by: Jack Otero, president of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement; Walter Fauntroy, convenor of the African American Action Alert Communications Network; Parren Mitchell, president of the Minority Business Legal Defense and Education Fund; William Lucy, president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists; Norman Hill, president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute; Ramona Edelin, president of the National Urban Coalition; and Daisy Wood, president of the National Pan-Helenic Council.

The appeal apparently worked. Hatch never introduced the legislation.

The left has shifted considerably since then with most civil rights groups and organized labor now backing comprehensive labor reform, although the latter still oppose some reform provisions that could undermine a deal in Congress.

 

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