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Published April 11, 2022

Shragg: To strike right balance on immigration policy, act like a good parent

– Karen I. Shragg

Good parents set clear, reasonable rules for their kids — and the neighbors’ kids — and then enforce the rules without abuse or favoritism.

A good parent, for instance, wouldn’t allow their strongest child to exploit his younger, weaker siblings or neighbors. Yet that’s exactly what corporate executives have done to vulnerable workers. For decades, Big Business has lobbied its allies in Congress to ensure an ample supply of cheap foreign labor to suppress wages.

African Americans, in particular, have suffered, as Roy Beck’s 2021 book, “Back of the Hiring Line, A 200-Year History of Immigration Surges, Employer Bias, and Depression of Black Wealth” documents. Each “10-percent immigrant-induced increase in the supply of a particular skill group reduced the black wage by 2.5 percent, lowered the employment rate of black men by 5.9 percentage points, and increased the incarceration rate of blacks by 1.3 percentage points” between 1960 and 2000, according to one study by economists at Harvard, University of Chicago and University of California, San Diego.

Immigrants have suffered too — more than a third of workers here illegally have experienced minimum wage violations. Unscrupulous employers can cheat these workers out of pay and force them to endure deplorable conditions, knowing that the laborers are unlikely to report the abuse.

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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