African Americans and Immigration, Continued

A few weeks ago, I noted the extent to which President Obama’s push for immigration reform created real tension with some African Americans, who see Latino immigrants as direct competitors for jobs and other resources. Writing for McClatchy, William Douglas and Franco Ordonez examine this tension, highlighting Al Sharpton (who supports immigration reform) and a radio host whose listenership oppose new immigration:

Ingram says many of his listeners see Obama’s attempt to push forward on immigration as a reminder of what the president hasn’t done to improve economic conditions for African-Americans.

“I would say a bulk of my listenership is anti-immigration,” he said. “You have to understand that in the community in which I live the percentage of African-Americans who are unemployed. They look at what’s going on with immigration as an affront to African-Americans who can’t pay their mortgages because many of the immigrants come here, they are hired at less than minimum wage.”

The African-American unemployment rate is at 13.8 percent, according to recently released government figures, nearly twice the 7 percent jobless rate for whites. The nation’s overall unemployment rate is 7.9 percent. For Hispanics, the rate is 9.7 percent.

For as much as African Americans share a set of political commitments, they don’t share the same views and that’s most apparent with immigration. To repeat a point, views on immigration within the black community differ significantly by class.

To wit—according to a recent paper from Tatishe Nteta, a political scientist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst—working-class blacks join their white counterparts in high support for restrictive immigration policies. Nteta uses data drawn from a 2006 Pew survey to make her case. In it, Pew asks different groups to voice their support an amendment to the Constitution (to end birthright citizenship), stricter federal oversight for employers (to prevent use of undocumented immigrants), and measures to decrease the overall flow of immigrants. Here’s a quick chart illustrating the difference in support by class:

Again, it’s not quite right to say that there’s a generalized African-American hostility to increased immigration. Rather, support for restrictive immigration measures—and presumably, opposition to comprehensive immigration reform—varies by class. Economically secure middle-income blacks are friendlier to new immigrants than their working class counterparts.

With all of that said, there is one important caveat to do this data—it predates the Great Recession, which wiped out a huge amount of African-American wealth. And it’s possible opposition to immigration has gone up among the middle-income blacks who saw their savings deteriorate. More research is necessary, but one thing is certain—the relationship of African Americans to immigration is far more complicated than it looks.