Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chavez on Immigration

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By Leon Kolankiewicz

Leon is an Advisory Board Member and Senior Writing Fellow with CAPS. A wildlife biologist, and environmental scientist and planner, Leon is the author of Where Salmon Come to Die: An Autumn on Alaska's Raincoast, the essay “Overpopulation versus Biodiversity” in Environment and Society: A Reader and was a contributing writer to Life on the Brink: Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation.

In a career that spans three decades, three countries and more than 30 states, Leon has managed environmental impact statements for many federal agencies on projects ranging from dams and reservoirs to coal-fired power plants, power lines, flood control projects, road expansions, management of Civil War battlefields, NASA's Kennedy Space Center operations and a proposed uranium mine on a national forest. He also has worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop comprehensive conservation plans at more than 40 national wildlife refuges from the Caribbean to Alaska.

The writer's views are his own.

January 16, 2017

Today’s Black and Latino Leaders are Embarrassed by their Views

Over at National Review, Ian Smith of the Immigration Reform Law Institute poses the fascinating question of what Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., would have thought of today’s immigration debate were he still alive, instead of having been brutally gunned down on a motel balcony in Memphis nearly half a century ago.

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., 1929-1968.

Smith musters compelling evidence that King, unlike most contemporary African American leaders, would not have been a supporter of mass immigration and open borders:

“Before he died, King had been a big backer of Cesar Chavez, the late-Sixties farmworkers’ organizer and one of the earliest campaigners against open borders. Right after King’s death, Reverend Ralph Abernathy, his replacement as head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, marched with Chavez in a protest against illegal immigration over its suppressive effects on wages and its weakening of unions.”

According to Smith, one of King’s principal advisors, his former attorney Clarence B. Jones, wrote in the 2008 book What Would Martin Say? that King would have opposed our de facto “wink-wink-nudge-nudge open border,” which “allows countless numbers of illegal immigrants to flood across and either take or undermine jobs done by Americans, especially brown and black Americans.”

I’ll bet that not one of the thousands of celebrations held to commemorate King’s memory and vision this week will highlight his views on enforcement of our laws against illegal immigration as a civil rights issue. King’s “I have a dream” speech will be lovingly remembered, but his belief that secure borders are part of that dream will not. Frankly, this inconvenient truth probably embarrasses most of those who today organize and speak at events in King’s memory.

One who isn’t embarrassed, but who staunchly upholds the importance of both borders and King’s vision, is CAPS advisory board member Frank Morris, Sr., a former director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. In an August 2016 TV ad he taped for CAPS, which ran on national cable TV networks and local TV stations around the country during the Republican National Convention, Morris said that:

“I’ve fought for civil rights all my life, and I oppose mass immigration. Because too much immigration drives down American wages. It means fewer jobs for working-class Americans and less opportunity to achieve the American Dream.”

Frank Morris, in a 2016 television ad for CAPS.

Barbara Jordan, the Texas native and highly respected former congressional representative, was appointed by President Clinton to chair the U.S. commission on immigration reform (the “Jordan Commission”) during his administration. After two years of study, Jordan and the commission’s recommendations advocated more forceful control of illegal immigration and a reduction in legal immigration levels for the benefit of American workers. Jordan died in 1996 and today her views, and the findings of the commission that she chaired, are similarly out of fashion with her own political party and fellow black leaders.

Many streets in American cities have been named (or renamed) for King and Chavez – for the former, across the entire country, and for the latter, primarily in the Southwest. It is appropriate that they are so celebrated. The martyr King, of course, also has a national holiday named in his honor, as well as a majestic statue with his likeness and an associated memorial located near the tidal basin in Washington, D.C., in the same vicinity as monuments to other national icons Franklin D. Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson.

Statue at Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C.

Yet it is a disturbing sign of the times that the current crop of black and Latino leaders feel that they must airbrush history to screen out the apparently unpalatable views of their heroes on immigration.

I too honor these national heroes, and in part because of their sensible, patriotic views on immigration, not in spite of them.



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