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Published Feb 3, 2021

Open borders historically dooms jobs for black Americans

While there was still discrimination in the North, the modern jobs and higher wages were a boon for those who undertook the Great Migration. Black Americans’ incomes were still below those of white Americans, but they grew nearly twice as fast during the mid-century immigration lull. And Beck makes a convincing case that the benefits of the immigration restriction — rising black incomes, greater mobility, growing union membership — were necessary, if not sufficient, factors in bringing about the civil-rights revolution.

And in another irony, it was precisely the civil-rights ethos that ended up pushing black workers back to the end of the hiring line again. Signed less than two months after the Voting Rights Act, the 1965 Hart-Celler immigration law was explicitly seen as a civil-rights measure, in its elimination of the national-origins quotas that had been at the center of immigration law since the 1920s.

But the sponsors genuinely did not think the legislation would result in a resumption of mass immigration, which all considered a relic of the past. And yet, Beck writes that “the 1965 act set in motion a series of policies that loosened labor markets by flooding the hiring lines with foreign workers and betraying a century of struggle toward economic and political equality by Black Americans.”

As he details the reduction in earnings of less-skilled black workers and their disappearance from occupations they used to dominate, it’s hard to argue with Beck’s assessment: “No congressional action in the last 60 years has been more destructive to Black Americans’ employment, income growth, and wealth accumulation than the Hart-Celler immigration act."


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Back Cover Text


While most Americans justifiably celebrate Ellis Island ancestors, here are the stories of what the long period of mass immigration after the Civil War meant to freed slaves, their children and grandchildren in the hiring lines of America: decades of delays in gaining industrial job experience, skills and career connections, and constant setbacks in accumulating and transferring wealth.

Average Black household wealth in the 21st century is only a fraction of the wealth of other racial ethnic groups, including recent immigrants. There are many reasons. This book is about one of them: periodic sustained immigration surges over the last two centuries.

This is a little-told story of the struggles of freed slaves and their descendants to climb job ladders in the eras of Frederick Douglass, W.E.B DuBois, A. Philip Randolph, Barbara Jordan, and other African American Leaders who advocated tight-labor migration policies. It is a great history of bitter disappointment and, occasionally, of great hope.

Linda Beck