The Forgotten Letter of Coretta Scott King

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In any age of rapidly changing political and partisan perspectives, it is perhaps well to remember how the immigration debate was originally framed back in 1986 when the Reagan/Bush Amnesty plan, put forth to placate the demands of Corporate America for cheap labor, was first enacted. Ignored at the time were the protests which began as early as 1969, when Cesar Chavez and members of the United Farm Workers marched with the Reverend Ralph Abernathy and U.S. Senator Walter Mondale to the border with Mexico to demand the cessation of employers’ practice of importing illegal labor as a means of cutting wages and reducing thousands of their workers to the most grinding poverty.

The government’s response to such protests and demands for economic justice? In the 1980s at a time when African American teenage unemployment approached a disgraceful 80 percent, Big Business cynically petitioned the INS for more visas for cheap foreign labor on grounds that there was an “unskilled labor shortage”. They largely got what they demanded. While Democrats courageously resisted such blatant attempts to lower the wages of legal Hispanic and African Americans, Reagan Amnesty apologists claimed that Americans wouldn’t stoop to perform the “dirty work” that only illegal workers would perform, ignoring the obvious fact that unemployed legal workers gladly and gratefully collect garbage and work in the coal mines if decent wages were paid.

In fact the pleas for economic justice in America were made many years before by the great African American educator, Booker T. Washington, who made his famous “cast down your bucket where you are” speech at the Atlanta International Exposition in 1895. Having recognized the racist and notorious practice of Big Business of importing and hiring cheap immigrant labor in order to avoid hiring African Americans, Washington pleaded: (T)o those (of you) who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth, cast down your bucket where you are. (If you but do so) we shall stand by you with a devotion that no foreigner can approach, ready to interlace our industrial, commercial, civil and religious life with yours.”

It should be no surprise, therefore, that these demands for economic justice were taken up by the wife of Martin Luther King, who in 1991 joined with eight CEO’s of America’s leading African American organizations to oppose Republican Senator Orin Hatch’s bill to do away with sanctions against employers who persisted in hiring illegal aliens as a means of discriminating and reducing the wages of against African Americans.

“We are concerned, Senator Hatch” Coretta Scott King wrote in her now largely forgotten letter, “That your proposed remedy…will cause another problem—the revival of …discrimination against black and brown U.S. documented workers, in favor of cheap labor.”

Given the success of Big Business in lobbying the U.S. government to ignore these pleas for economic justice — on grounds of “humanitarianism” no less — it is perhaps the ultimate irony that this success has translated also in flipping the partisan narrative to the point where even legal immigrants have been tricked into adopting the Reagan/Bush agenda against their own economic interest under the ideological banner of the party that for decades opposed it.

But there may now be signs of enlightenment by those who have been most oppressed by the Reagan/Bush agenda. In 2014, by a strong majority of 53 percent, male Latinos voted for the Texas Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who had promised to stop the notorious practice of luring illegal immigrants—even little children-- to their deaths in the desert with such promises as amnesty, and in-state-tuition.

And so, gradually the tide may be turning in Booker T. Washington’s and Coretta Scott King’s demand for economic justice. Even in Germany today, where Merkel basked in the “humanitarian” glow of luring hundreds of thousands un-vetted illegal immigrants with promises of cash rewards (but no jobs, of course), the spectacle of teeming throngs of desperate young males being herded into the most degrading “refugee” camps, or worse showered with useless “vouchers,” may be finally revealing to the world the immorality of luring people from their homes, families, and culture for little more than the political aggrandizement of the politicians who created it. The tragedy, of course, is that the billions spent on such self-defeating endeavors could have been instead been spent on providing safety and economic help in zones created for their protection in the home countries.

In America, no true reform can ever come until the most demagogic politicians cease their deliberate obfuscation of the difference between legal and illegal immigration, and begin streamlining the procedures for legal immigration, which is now so difficult that relatively few can navigate or afford it. When this is done, any wall built will always have doors.