Clergy Commentary

Rev. Douglas M. Parham

Rev. Douglas Parham

Vice President  of the Ecumenical Leadership Council


                                          An Issue of Immigration Balance

The Politics:

In 2008 immigration reform was a frequently mentioned consideration by candidates John McCain, and Barack Obama. Both indicated their interest in “fixing the broken system” which included a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented residents. Candidate McCain, under pressure from the more conservative members of his party, eventually abandoned his advocacy for immigration reform, and subsequently went on to lose the election. Candidate Obama maintained his support for immigration reform and went on to win the 2008 Presidential campaign—with the support of almost 68 percent of the Hispanic vote. To an even greater degree the aforementioned scenario was played out in the 2012 election with Mitt Romney losing the Hispanic vote to Barack Obama by a whopping 44%, which many credit as the difference between losing and winning the election. With Republicans and Democrats now fully aware of the voting potential of Hispanic voters, the race is on to engender empathy with the Hispanic community through immigration reform. If approved as envisioned by the progressive elements within both parties, the percentage of the Hispanic electorate will almost certainly reduce the massive advantage of the white vote, but it will also dramatically reduce the percentage and relevancy of the African American vote.


The impact of Immigration Reform on National Electorate;

For people that have been the first to die during the Boston Massacre of 1770 (Crispus Attucks), shed blood during the Civil War, World War 1, World War 11, the Korean Conflict, the struggles for Civil Rights, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the African American Vote— as a percentage of the national electorate, is on course to become severely diminished in part as a result of their efforts to protecting the democratic freedoms for all—- with the ironic exception of those that look like them.

As a point of fact, the growing population of illegal immigrants is from the following categories:

1)    Illegal border crossings. (Largely from Mexico)

2)    Staying in the country with an expired VISA

3)    Naturalization of children of illegal immigrants born on American soil.

The first two are concerns for law enforcement. However the third, children born of illegal immigrants and naturalized as U. S. citizens, fuel the disequilibrium in the current status of the national electorate. Oddly, this is a benefit of the ratification of the 14th amendment to the Constitution which was meant to confer full citizenship on freed Black slaves as an aspect of Reconstruction. Since the 2010 Census indicates that an overwhelming majority of illegal immigrants are Hispanic, it follows that their offspring when combined with immigrants crossing the border legally and illegally, plus those in the country on expired VISAs, will combine to diminish the relevancy of the Black Vote, which currently is only 13% of the national electorate.          demographics

The Numbers:

In developing a profile of who is immigrating to the United States the following facts are revealed. In 1960 the majority of immigrants to the U. S. were from Mexico. In 2004 the majority of immigrants to the United States were again from Mexico. And of course in 2010 the majority of immigrants to the United States were yet again from Mexico. By comparison from 1980 to 2009, the African-born population in United States grew from just under 200,000 to almost 1.5 million, whiles the annual number of Mexican born immigrants to the U. S., starting in 1980, went from 2 million to over 12 million in 2011. In 2009, Africans born immigrants made up only 3.9 percent or 1.5 million people out of the country’s 38.5 million legal immigrants. When illegal immigrants—of the type being considered for immigration reform are included, the percentage of African immigrants as a percent of the total immigrant population falls to well below 1%. Currently, about 58% percent of an estimated 11.2 million illegal immigrants in the United States are from Mexico. These facts are not meant to imply that Mexican immigration is unwanted or unappreciated. Quite the contrary, Mexican and Latin American immigration is to be considered a bountiful benefit to the vitality and character of America. In short, America is better off with Mexican and Latin American immigrants than without. The issue here is balance in the electorate, and more specifically the loss of political relevancy for the African American electorate.



Currently, the African American electorate is approximately 13% of the national total. With the passage of immigration reform—which will presumably include a path to citizenship and voter eligibility for an estimated 11 million Hispanics, the Black Vote will remain at its current position of 13%. Although the White Vote will drop from its current position of 66%, however it will still have a majority with 52%. The Hispanic vote will almost double from its current position of 16% to almost 30% —a direct consequence of immigration reform. It is also to be noted that as a result of immigration fueled from China, the Asian American vote will rise from 1% to 6%, or approximately half of the current Black vote (population).

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                                                    The St. Louis Solution

Without a doubt, immigration reform will increase the voting strength of the Hispanic community. That is a fact. In a democracy, the Constitution describes the process of voting as one man (and eventually one woman), one vote. The Immigration Reform train is by all accounts and statements by leaders of both political parties an issue whose time has come. Recent surveys of public opinion seem to agree with the prevailing political positions. There will be immigration reform in the not too distant future. This will presumably lead to a greater Hispanic imprint on national and local elections, and as was touted during the 2008 election, “”Elections have Consequences”.  So what will be the impact of immigration reform on the African American electorate?

Since Immigration Reform was formed around the basis of moral justice and economic fairness, the African American population is seeking fairness for those of African and Haitian origin, with the desire to immigrate to the United States. At present, the 1955 Cuban Adjustment Act automatically confers refugee status on Cubans that reach U. S. shores. After one year, the refugee can apply for permanent residency.  By contrast, if Haitian immigrants reach U. S. shores, instead of being welcomed and offered political asylum, they are quickly deported. (Cuba is approximately 90 miles from Florida. Haiti is approximately 750 miles from Florida).

The St. Louis Solution to Immigration Reform is as follows:

  1. Liberalize the Immigration Policy for those seeking to immigrate from Sub Sahara Africa and  Haiti.
  2. Put  Cuba and Haiti on the same policy with respect to obtaining refugee  status in the U. S.

By liberalizing America’s immigration policy with respect to African and Haitian Immigrants, a marginal increase can be restored towards the historical demographics of the U. S. electorate. Although retaining true demographic percentages will be most probably be lost as a result of natural demographic changes and immigration reform, a more liberal immigration policy towards Africa and Haiti will dampen its impact on the African American vote.

Immigration reform is currently being politically debated and could soon be legislated in the United States Congress—– all within the context of arriving at a politically desirable point for illegal and undocumented Hispanics residents—which have already received partial protection through executive implementation of several benefits of the Dream Act. (Although the Dream Act is itself still being debated)

The St. Louis Solution is to request that the political dialogue on immigration be broadened to include a targeted immigration program designed to increase the opportunities for Africans and Haitian to emigrate to the U. S. and eventually become U. S. citizens. After all, like the Cubans, many African and Haitian immigrants are fleeing political oppression.  In fact many are actually fleeing for their lives.


                                The Benefits of Increasing Immigration

                                       from Sub Sahara Africa and Haiti


  1. Preserve  the significance and relevancy of the African American electorate
  2. Provide humanitarian assistance and refugee status to people fleeing political oppression
  3. Conserve  the demographic balance of the national electorate as a result of      immigration reform


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                                   What will happen to the African American

                                     Vote as a result of Immigration Reform?


Immigration Reform as envisioned by the current political powers will include tougher enforcement of the borders, presumably to reduce the number of illegal immigrants entering the U. S. However, the centerpiece of the Immigration Reform will focus on providing a path to citizenship for approximately 11 million people that are in the country illegally.

What are the demographics and countries of origin for the illegal immigrants in the U. S.? According to the Pew Hispanic Center Report: The illegal immigrant population of the United States in 2008 was estimated by the Center for Immigration Studies to be about 11 million people. Other estimates range from 7 to 20 million.

In 2005, 56% of illegal immigrants were from Mexico; 22% were from other Latin American countries, primarily from Central America; 13% were from Asia; 6% were from Europe and Canada; and 3% were from Africa and the rest of the world. (The 3% includes people not generally thought of as Black Africans such as Egyptians, Saudis, Algerians,—and “the rest of the world”).  Statistically speaking, African immigrants are the smallest percentage of illegal immigrants in the country. That of course means that the proposed policies of immigration reform will have the almost no impact on the African American electorate. To put it bluntly, other demographics, most notably the Hispanics, will grow stronger demographically as the African American population becomes a smaller percentage of the country’s total population, and therefore weaker politically. And as was previously mentioned, in a country where the democracy means “one man—one vote”, the African American vote will mean less in the demographic and electorate sense.

One of the deep concerns of many African Americans is that with immigration reform the benefits achieved as a result of struggles during the Civil Rights era will be lost to the plurality of demographics. As a smaller percentage of the country’s population, the African American vote will have a corresponding smaller impact on the nation’s political interests and allocation of resources. And as with any demographic group, African Americans will then experience the non relevancy of being one of the smallest slices of a big pie. After over two hundred years of proportional relevancy, this would seem to be an ignoble end to the vote of the African American community.

As a result of Mexican immigration: From 1970 to 2010 the total Hispanic population grew from 5% of the U. S. population to 16% (an increase of 220%). The Black percentage in 1970 was 11% of the total population and went to only 13% after 40 years (an increase of only 18%)


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Executive Summary

Immigration reform in the United States is a foregone conclusion. The country will soon have some form of immigration reform that allows for a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants currently living in the country. For the record, African Americans in the majority, fully embrace immigration reform, and warmly accept the notion that immigration reform will increase the legality of Hispanics currently living in the U. S. This paper in no way presents a position contra to the concept of legalizing the nation’s millions of illegal Hispanic immigrants, or immigrants of any demographic group. The position being presented here is that the current political dialogue is focused on illegal immigrants that are largely thought to be Hispanic, while disregarding immigration from Africa and Haiti.

African Americans have been an integral part of the American story since its inception. As slaves, soldiers, workers, business owners, entertainers, their contributions to building American is beyond reproach. They have suffered through the indignity of not having a vote, to Jim Crow laws, and even modern attempts at voter I. D. and suppression laws to reduce the “Black Vote”. Through the challenges they have maintained their American spirit and identity. As a group they have never opposed the inclusion of others, nor demanded special privileges at the ballot box. In short, they have been among the most American of Americans. The issue of immigration reform, if passed as proposed, will radically diminish the value and significance of the “Black Vote”. This presentation is being presented as basis for further dialogue among politicians and the American public, with the goal of protecting the potency of the African American electorate, which will certainly be affected by the current concept of immigration reform.

A liberal immigration policy for Africans and Haitians would most certainly reduce the impact of the current concept of immigration reform, but more than that it would preserve the voting power of the nation’s second

oldest minority group (native Americans being the oldest).  As media reports and political statements y both parties reveal, there is a zest and delayed sense of righteousness in moving to legalize those currently in the country illegally. Figures reveal that almost 80% of the country’s illegal immigrants are from Mexico and Latin American countries, while only 3% were from Africa. In political terms this means the Black Vote will mean less, while the Hispanic Vote will mean more. The question is asked, “Is this the beginning of the end of the Black Vote”?

As was previously stated in this paper, the request to broaden the dialogue to include the concept of maintaining demographic balance in the U. S.  Electorate does in no way seek to disparage the notion of providing a path to citizenship to the approximately 11 million immigrants, which are largely Hispanic out of the shadows and into the full embrace of America as citizens. African Americans in the majority will most heartily welcome them as brothers and sisters as well as new Americans. The repeated concern here is the diminished value of one the most precious American assets of those that have suffered through slavery, servitude, legislated abuse, social inequity, and almost every malignant malady vested upon a people, could become yet another hardship to endure. This is the concern and grievance of American’s African American electorate.