Conservative media are turning to a 22-year-old letter signed by Coretta Scott King to accuse immigration reform activists of co-opting the civil rights movement. They deceptively argue that the letter proves Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta would have opposed the modern immigration reform movement.
In 1991, Coretta Scott King signed a letter addressed to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) that urged him to reconsider a proposal to undercut penalties on companies that employed undocumented workers that were mandated by the 1986 immigration law. King, along with other members of the Black Leadership Forum -- a coalition of leaders from some of the country's preeminent African-American organizations at the time -- wrote that they wanted an opportunity to study the effects such a repeal would have on African-American and Hispanic workers. The letter stated:
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. This would undoubtedly exacerbate an already severe economic crisis in communities where there are large numbers of new immigrants.
The letter added: "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 of the unemployed. Additionally, it would add to competition for scarce jobs and drive down wages."
The Black Leadership Forum members were clear that their concerns were centered on discrimination -- against minority workers and against immigrants. The letter said nothing about the larger illegal immigration issue. In fact, it didn't even express disagreement with the 1986 immigration law -- that law granted legal status and a pathway to citizenship to nearly 3 million undocumented immigrants -- which would have been a clear indication that members were against reform.
Instead they wrote that they were invested in "the elimination of the root causes of national origin discrimination under the Immigration Reform & Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), as well as discriminatory impact."
In a 1990 report on the law, the General Accounting Office found that "substantial" and "serious" national original discrimination was introduced as a result of the law, but that it was "not pervasive." GAO wrote that it "believes many employers discriminated because the law's verification system does not provide a simple or reliable method to verify job applicants' eligibility to work." That report formed the basis for a proposal by Hatch and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) to eliminate employer sanctions.
Conservative media figures are using the Forum letter to claim that immigration reform activists are, as Breitbart.com put it, "trying to co-opt the civil rights messages of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to push immigration reform through Congress," which "seem[s] to be directly contradicting the wishes of the late Dr. King and his wife, Coretta Scott King." Breitbart.com went on to claim that "Coretta Scott King and other black community leaders argued that illegal immigration would have a devastating impact on the black community."
On her radio show, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham echoed that claim, suggesting that immigration rights' activists are conflating the civil rights movement with the immigration reform movement. She read from the letter to illustrate her point, adding, "So in 1991, Coretta Scott King was saying on the issue of amnesty what many of us are saying now."
Ingraham went on to criticize those who spoke in favor of immigration reform at the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, accusing them of "ruining the moment."
Earlier in the show, Ingraham stated that African-Americans would be the ones who would suffer the most if Congress passed immigration reform, adding that they are "the very people who Dr. Martin Luther King struggled, and ultimately died, to protect and to elevate. That's the sad thing about all of this." She claimed immigration rights' activists were "confused" to conflate the issues of race and civil rights, even though the issues are undeniably intertwined.
Ingraham went on to say:
INGRAHAM: But to conflate the issue of equal opportunity, the desire for a fair application of existing law with the issue of allowing exceptions to the law or indeed amnesty for law breakers, and that's where you find the illegal immigration issue involved here, that's something wild right? But I think the left wants everyone to believe out there that the struggle for amnesty is equivalent to the struggle for racial equality and equal opportunity.
Right-wing media are subverting Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' message that immigrants should have access to affordable health care, claiming her purpose is to inflate "Obamacare enrollment." But in doing so, they ignore the real human and economic costs to denying immigrants affordable health insurance.
At an event sponsored by a Latino community service group, Sebelius explained that undocumented immigrants who would be newly legalized under the Senate immigration reform bill would not be able to apply for subsidies to purchase health insurance, or have access to the health care exchanges and the expanded Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. She went on to say that this "is, frankly, why -- another very keen reason why we need comprehensive immigration reform." Sebelius added:
SEBELIUS: We won't fix the immigration system, unfortunately, through the health care bill, but I think having the immigration bill that passed the Senate, pass the House, would be a huge step. In the meantime, I would say for those undocumented residents, we have continued access to the community health centers and an expanded footprint in the community health centers.
A number of right-wing sites, including CNSNews, Breitbart.com, and HotAir, highlighted Sebelius' comments using headlines like, "Sebelius: Pass Immigration Bill to Boost Obamacare Enrollment," but ignored the core of her message.
According to an October 2012 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly 48 million people under 65 were uninsured in 2011. In a 2011 study, the Urban Institute estimated that about 14.6 percent, or almost 7 million, of the uninsured are undocumented immigrants. The study warned that without policy actions, the share of that population would grow and impose extra costs on state governments and hospitals:
If the reform law leads any of these [small] firms [that employ undocumented immigrants] to drop the coverage they offer, or if the exchange does a superior job of screening based on immigration status, undocumented immigrants could see further deterioration in their already low rates of private coverage.
The exclusions in the Affordable Care Act may also serve as a barrier to members of undocumented immigrants' families who might otherwise be eligible for one of the coverage options. For example, incentives to avoid enrolling native-born children with undocumented immigrant parents in Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program may also reduce coverage in the exchanges for families containing one or more undocumented immigrants.
As health reform unfolds, and undocumented immigrants emerge as an even larger share of the uninsured population, it is likely that they will become a more prominent component of safety-net health care providers' client base. This could mean that such providers will feel financial stress, especially in light of the Affordable Care Act's cuts to Medicaid and Medicare disproportionate-share hospital payments.
The Washington Post cited a 2006 study by Harvard economist George Borjas to argue that immigration drives down the wages of American workers. But the Post ignored several factors contradicting that claim, including that in his 2006 study, Borjas downplayed his findings by noting that economic changes "tend to dampen the wage effects of immigration over time." Moreover, in his most recent report, Borjas admitted that the long-term effect of immigration on wages is zero, a conclusion in line with the economic consensus that immigration benefits U.S. workers.
In an article highlighting the debate over "whether low-skilled immigrants are displacing American-born workers or filling a vital economic gap by accepting jobs that many Americans are unwilling or unavailable to perform," The Washington Post cited a number of reports from the nativist Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), including one claiming that "immigrants are pushing Americans out of jobs" and another that "suggested that submissiveness rather than ambition makes low-skilled immigrants especially desirable."
The Post also included a 2006 study written by Borjas and others for the National Bureau of Economic Research, which found that "U.S.-born workers most affected by low-skilled immigration are African Americans." From the article:
Many jobs once held by black Americans are now done by Hispanic immigrants, while black unemployment has reached 13.5 percent nationwide. One study at Harvard found that between 1960 and 2000, a 10 percent increase in immigrants in various jobs reduced black wages and employment by up to 4 percent.
But experts say there are other reasons why many low-skilled African Americans are out of the job market. One is the large number who become lost to street life, prison and the stigma of being an ex-offender. In the District, over half of about 66,000 ex-offenders are jobless.
In the study, which examined the relationship between immigration and trends in black employment and incarceration from 1960 to 2000, Borjas found that "a 10-percent immigrant-induced increase in the supply of a particular skill group reduced the black wage by 4.0 percent, lowered the employment rate of black men by 3.5 percentage points, and increased the incarceration rate of blacks by almost a full percentage point." Borjas added that white men experienced a 4.1 percent wage and a 1.6 percent decline in employment over the same period.
While that study didn't map the outcome over the long run, it did note that economic changes "tend to dampen the wage effects of immigration over time." That was Borjas' conclusion in a 2007 study on the impact of Mexican immigration from 1980 to 2000, in which he wrote: "As expected, the wage impact of immigration is muted in the long run as capital adjusts to the increased workforce." In that report, he explicitly noted that high school dropouts are the most affected by immigration and that high school graduates and those with some college see their wages increase.
In his April 2013 report on immigration and the American worker from 1960 to 2010, Borjas wrote: "If we take the weighted average of the wage effects across education groups, we find that the average wage of a pre-existing worker fell by 3.2 percent in the short run and 0.0 percent in the long run."
From the August 16 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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In a report that attempted to revive controversy over the Obama administration's deferred action program, Fox News repeatedly characterized the initiative as a way for undocumented immigrants to "avoid deportation." But this framing obscures the significant economic and social advantages that have been gained from this program, which has improved the lives of nearly half a million young immigrants.
Discussing a new smartphone app aimed at helping immigrants understand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals' program, or DACA, Fox & Friends First co-host Patti Ann Browne claimed the app would "help illegals avoid deportation" while on-screen text read: "Avoid Deportation App." She added that the app "is designed to help them take advantage of President Obama's non-deportation policy."
Fox News and other conservative media outlets have a long history of attacking the program. In fact, they derided it as "amnesty" when it was first introduced a year ago. Fox News even charged at the time that the program would "mak[e] it easier for acts of terrorism to be committed."
Contrary to Browne's assertions however, the app is simply a self-screening tool that will allow "DACA applicants to understand their eligibility" and offer "a searchable directory of listings for immigration legal services providers, including non-profit groups, in all 50 states."
From the August 15 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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From the August 14 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show:
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Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham has repeatedly attacked and mocked the undocumented immigrants known as the "Dream 9," who in July staged a protest at the U.S.-Mexico border to highlight what they feel are unjust immigration laws. Ingraham has accused the activists of not respecting the laws of the United States, saying that "when you come into our home and make it your home, then you've got to follow the rules."
But far from respecting her nation's laws, Ingraham has hypocritically advocated for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, even going so far as to seemingly agree that shutting down the government over the law wouldn't be the end of world.
Discussing the Dream 9 movement in an interview with undocumented activist Cesar Vargas on Fox News, Ingraham criticized the activists for "flout[ing] the law" and mocked their protest as a "stunt" that was "disrespecting our laws." When Vargas explained that the activists are trying to show that their home's immigration laws are "outdated" and that the immigration system is "broken," Ingraham attacked them as opportunists intent on taking advantage of the Obama administration's deferred action program.
She also told Vargas that if the Dream 9 really consider the United States their home, then they should "respect" their home's law, adding: "When I go into someone else's home, I try to follow their rules. So when you come into our home and make it your home, then you've got to follow the rules."
But contrary to Ingraham's accusations, the Dream 9 have broken no immigration laws with their protest. As she herself admitted, all were brought into the country as children. They did not willingly come into the country illegally.
As the Los Angeles Times further explained, the Dream 9 are a group of undocumented immigrants who "staged an unconventional and risky protest last month at the U.S.-Mexico border to spotlight the thousands of people deported under the Obama administration."
From the August 8 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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The Wall Street Journal's news section has repeatedly parroted the Republican narrative on border security without pointing out that enforcement, not only along the border but in most areas of immigration law, is greater than ever. This uncritical coverage has allowed congressional Republicans to set the terms of the debate on immigration reform even though the Journal's editorial page has charged that these "border security first" arguments amount to obstructionism.
In an August 4 article highlighting an immigration reform proposal that Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) is reportedly working on, the Journal gave weight to Goodlatte's statement that "[n]o illegal immigrant would gain legal status before efforts were in place to secure the border with Mexico," and Rep. Cory Gardner's (R-CO) argument that "he didn't want to consider" a plan that included a path to citizenship "until the issue of border security had been resolved."
The article did not explain the facts of border enforcement, much less point out that the Republican narrative on the matter "has become a ruse to kill reform." That's the way the Journal described "the real story" behind Republicans "once again demanding more enforcement as the price of their support" in a June 19 editorial titled, "The Border Security Ruse."
In a May 2 editorial that offered a "border security reality check," the Journal mocked the "porous border" argument and noted that "[c]ontrary to Republican claims that President Obama has turned a blind eye to illegal aliens, the official data indicate the opposite." It continued:
One lesson is that we can continue to militarize the border, but at some point it becomes overkill. The Republicans who claim we must "secure the border first" ignore the progress already made because their real goal isn't border security. It is to use border security as an excuse to kill immigration reform.
The editorial went on to cite relevant data to show that fewer immigrants will come illegally if you "[g]ive people more legal ways to enter and exit America."
A July 9 editorial asking whether the GOP would prove to be a "party of opportunity or closed borders," added: "Too often Americans hear the shrillest anti-immigration Republicans whose only argument is 'secure the border,' as if that is a sensible policy for the 21st century. House Speaker John Boehner's job is to make sure those voices don't carry the day."
A New York Times profile of Georgia anti-immigration activist D.A. King left out important context about King's white nationalist ties and the similarly racist background of NumbersUSA, a nationally prominent nativist organization cited in the article.
On August 7, The New York Times published an article detailing efforts by King and his organization, the Dustin Inman Society -- a group named after a boy killed in a car accident by a driver who was an undocumented immigrant -- to pressure Congressional Republicans to oppose efforts at immigration policy reform. The Times interviewed King and described some of his anti-immigrant policy stances while also highlighting his influence with NumbersUSA:
D. A. King, who quit his job as an insurance agent a decade ago to wage a full-time campaign against illegal immigration in Georgia, is one reason this state rivals Arizona for the toughest legal crackdown in the country. With his Southern manners and seersucker jackets, he works the halls of the gold-domed statehouse, familiar to all, polite and uncompromising.
Now, like other local activists around the country, he is looking beyond Georgia to stop the House of Representatives from following the Senate and passing legislation that would open a path to legal status for illegal immigrants.
As lawmakers return to their home districts for the August recess, advocates like Mr. King are joining forces with national groups that oppose legalization and favor reduced immigration for an all-out populist push.
"These local people live in the middle of these places, they know how to be effective in their districts," said Roy Beck, executive director of one of the largest national groups, NumbersUSA, who is now holding regular strategy calls with Mr. King and more than 50 other state advocates.
The Times' profile of King made note of some of the activist's inflammatory anti-immigrant rhetoric -- for example, King's depiction of Latino groups as "tribalists" and his description of immigration from Mexico to the U.S. as "an invasion" -- but omitted ties to white nationalist figures that permeate both King's and NumbersUSA's past.
Media outlets rightly fixated on Rep. Steve King's (R-IA) anti-immigrant comments smearing young undocumented immigrants and the resulting backlash and action those comments drew. However, the fact that Iowa, the state King represents, would benefit economically from the comprehensive immigration reform he continuously argues against is the bigger story.
In a July 18 interview with Newsmax, King attacked DREAMers -- undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country illegally and are younger than 35 -- claiming that for every one who's a valedictorian, there are another 100 who "weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert."
In subsequent interviews with CNN, Radio Iowa, and Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham, King stood by his remarks even as he was repeatedly rebuked by fellow Republicans and immigrants rights' activists.
On August 1, as a parting gift to hundreds of Republican lawmakers before their five-week August recess, immigrants and activists delivered cantaloupes to House offices with a placard that reportedly read:
This cantaloupe was picked by immigrant hands in California. You gave Steve King a vote. Give us a vote for citizenship.
As these media noted, the action was inspired by King's anti-immigrant comments and the amendment he sponsored to stop an Obama administration program that grants two-year deportation reprieves to DREAMers who qualify. All House members who voted for the measure received the gift of a cantaloupe.
But while King continues to be excoriated for his remarks, media shouldn't waste an opportunity to bring fuller context to his position and how it would impact the state he represents.
Indeed, though King remains staunchly opposed to immigration reform, Iowa would likely reap numerous economic benefits from reforming the nation's immigration laws.
In a July 2013 analysis of the potential economic benefits to state governments, the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy reported that Iowa could see a boost of about $18.1 million in tax revenue from newly legalized immigrants -- with most of it coming from income taxes. If undocumented immigrants in Iowa were granted legal status and legally allowed to work in the state, their income tax contributions would more than double from an estimated $12 million to $26.6 million.
Overall, the state and local tax contributions of newly legalized immigrants in Iowa would jump to an estimated $82.2 million from $64 million. Their effective tax rate would rise from 6.5 percent to 7.6 percent, aligning their tax contributions with residents of similar incomes.
Right-wing media are using a new government report showing that there are a million visitors in the United States who have overstayed their visas to argue that the news will negatively impact immigration reform. However, what these media outlets are missing is that passing a comprehensive immigration bill, like the one that recently cleared the Senate, would largely fix the problem of such overstays as the bill mandates the implementation of a biometric entry-exit data system.
On July 30, the Government Accountability Office released a study reporting that as of June 2013, more than one million visitors in the United States have overstayed their visas -- thus the term overstays. GAO defines an overstay as a "nonimmigrant who is legally admitted to the United States for an authorized period but remains in the country illegally after that period expired without obtaining an extension of stay or a change of status or meeting other specific conditions, such as claiming asylum."
In a segment highlighting the report, Fox News host Heather Nauert claimed that the "news could hurt the debate over that sweeping immigration bill that we've heard so much about."
A July 30 Washington Times article similarly asserted that "the report could hurt immigration deal" and falsely claimed that the Senate immigration bill "waters down" requirements for a biometric system. The Times wrote that the bill "say[s] only that there must be a biographic-based system, which means using a photo, and that it be limited to air and sea ports."
While the number of immigrants who overstay their visas has reportedly sharply declined in the last decade, passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill would greatly alleviate the problem. According to a February 2013 study, overstays declined by 73 percent between 2000 and 2009, thanks to enhanced security measures by DHS in the years following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The immigration bill that passed the Senate on June 27 mandates the implementation of an exit system that will monitor when foreigners leave the country. It also mandates establishing a mandatory biometric exit data system that would require that all foreigners be fingerprinted when exiting the country." The system would have to be implemented at the 10 United States airports that support the highest volume of international air travel" within two years of the bill's passage. Such a system would then be expanded to 30 airports and major sea and land entry and exit points within six years.
A fact sheet of the bill by Sen. Bob Corker's (R-TN) office stated that the "underlying bill improves the identification of overstays through a fully implemented entry/exit system," and that Corker's amendment "goes a step further by mandating the initiation of removal proceedings for at least 90% of visa overstays - holding DHS accountable for failing to enforce the law and targeting an issue that is at the core of a policy of de facto amnesty."
According to an analysis of the bill as passed by the Senate, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill would not only reduce the flow of illegal immigration, it would also greatly impact overstays. CBO concluded that the security measures in the bill would cut illegal immigration and overstays by "between one-third and one-half compared with the projected net inflow under current law."
Fox Business' Stuart Varney flirted with the idea of denying food stamps to undocumented or legal immigrants and their children, asking whether they had "a right" to access those benefits, and even suggested that immigrants were taking advantage of the benefit by falsely claiming they were starving.
During a segment discussing a recent letter from Republican donors urging House Republicans to support and pass comprehensive immigration reform, Varney veered the discussion to benefits by saying, "I'm interested in the idea that they cannot be refused any or all government services. They can't." When Fox News senior legal analyst Andrew Napolitano explained that the Supreme Court has ruled that noncitizens should be provided the same basic social services as citizens, Varney went on to suggest that immigrants should be left to starve rather than receive the same food stamps benefits as citizens:
VARNEY: OK. So they must be served in an emergency room. Must have health services. OK, got that.
VARNEY: Must be educated. Their children must go to public school.
VARNEY: They've got every right to do that.
NAPOLITANO: Yes. Yes.
VARNEY: Food stamps. They got a right to that?
NAPOLITANO: Well, the case does not subsume -- the case does not address food stamps. But if a person were below the poverty level and starving, the federal government would have the obligation to alleviate that starvation.
VARNEY: So all you've got to do is, "I'm starving, boys. Feed me."
Varney then brought up the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is a refundable tax credit for working individuals and families with children, asking whether immigrants who pay taxes also had a right to receive it.
In fact, undocumented immigrants are ineligible to apply for public benefits, which include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. Legal residents are also ineligible for the program unless they meet certain requirements, including living in the country for at least five years or being a refugee.
As members of the conservative media continue to complain about the deficit, these same media figures are attacking the immigration reform bill that is expected to reduce the federal deficit.
Rush Limbaugh, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham, and Fox News host Sean Hannity have continually attacked President Obama for supposedly failing to reduce the deficit. Limbaugh went so far as to ask someone to show him any time Obama has "formulated policy or made statements that would successfully reduce" the deficit. Yet these same figures have attacked the immigration reform bill, which the Congressional Budget Office has estimated could lead to savings of about $175 billion over the 2014-2023 period and could decrease federal budget deficits by about $700 billion by 2033. Conservative media hosts also failed to mention the other economic benefits associated with the bill, including long-term increases in gross domestic product and wages.