Coretta Scott King in 1991: Hold Employers Accountable for Hiring Illegal Aliens

Pro-amnesty activists trying to co-opt the civil rights messages of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to push immigration reform through Congress seem to be directly contradicting the wishes of the late Dr. King and his wife, Coretta Scott King. Mrs. King carried on her husband's civil rights activism after he was assassinated.

In a 1991 letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Coretta Scott King and other black community leaders argued that illegal immigration would have a devastating impact on the black community. At the time, Hatch was working his U.S. Senate position to undo some enforcement measures laid out in Ronald Reagan’s 1986 amnesty agreement, attempting to weaken interior enforcement and sanctions against employers who hired illegal aliens. 

We, the undersigned members of the Black Leadership Forum, write to urge you to postpone introduction of your employer sanctions repeal legislation until we have had an opportunity to report to you what we believe to be the devastating impact the repeal would have on the economic condition of un- and semi-skilled workers—a disproportionate number of whom are African-American and Hispanic; and until we have had the opportunity to propose to you and to our Hispanic brothers and sisters, what we believe could be a number of effective means of eliminating the discrimination occasioned by employer sanctions, without losing the protection sanctions provide for U.S. workers, especially minority workers.

While the members of the Black Leadership Forum wrote they had “divergent views” at the time on the employer sanctions regarding illegal immigration, they wrote they were “united in three respects.”

First, they wrote they were united in being “fully committed to the elimination of the root causes of national origin discrimination under the Immigration Reform & Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) [Reagan’s amnesty], as well as discriminatory impact.”

Second, they said they stood together in their belief that “there are a number of effective ways to remedy discrimination resulting from IRCA, without tampering with employer sanctions. Some measures we support are contained in the Report and Recommendations of the Taskforce on IRCA-Related Discimination and in the 1990 GAO Report on Immigration Reform: Employer Sanctions and Question of Discrimination.”

Third, the writers said they were unanimous in their request for a discussion with Hatch and other members of Congress on “the importance of employer sanctions to the economic security of African Americans and Hispanic workers.”

The black leaders wrote that they feared lack of interior immigration enforcement would lead to future illegal immigration, and the hiring of those illegal immigrants into jobs that could be occupied by black and Hispanic American citizens.

“We are concerned, Senator Hatch, that your proposed remedy to the employer sanctions-based discrimination, namely, the elimination of employer sanctions, will cause another problem--the revival of the pre-1986 discrimination against black and brown U.S. and documented workers, in favor of cheap labor--the undocumented workers,” they wrote. “This would undoubtedly exacerbate an already severe economic crisis in communities where there are large numbers of new immigrants.”

Coretta Scott King and the other black leaders added that they were “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 U.S. workers to the rolls 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.

The black leaders then called for education reform to train American workers for jobs, rather than immigration reform to bring in foreigners to fill those jobs while American workers suffered. “Senator Hatch, we believe that what this country needs is not to prematurely scrap employer sanctions, but rather, we need education and training programs designed to prepare the unemployed, especially African Americans, Hispanics, and others at great risk, to meet the market demands of tomorrow,” they wrote. 

The authors added that 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.”


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