Immigration Reform & the Leap Frog Effect

Some Blacks fear that setting 11 million undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship could permit them to leap frog their own progress. Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, DC, January 31, 2013  - Tuesday, president Obama presented his proposal for a comprehensive immigration law package at a Las Vegas, Nevada high school.  His announcement came one day after a group of eight US Senators introduced guiding principles for a Congressionally-originated plan.  Florida Senator and Tea Party darling Marco Rubio, Former Presidential candidate Arizona Senator John McCain, New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez and Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, creator of the DREAM ACT, were among the 8 signatories to the principles. 

Both plans called for a crack down on companies hiring undocumented workers and a path to secure citizenship for the 11 million undocumented workers in the United States. The would-be beneficiaries include some who snuck across the Mexican-American border and about half who overstayed their visa authorization.  According to the plans, that almost mirror one-another, the immigrants would  have to pay back-owed taxes, wait for their green cards by standing in line behind those already undergoing the legal immigration process, learn English and pass criminal background checks. The president’s plan also call for increased border controls, but the congressmen’s proposal would condition the citizenship path on the US certifying that it has indeed secured its borders. 

Supporters of Immigration Reform rally for passing of a bill.

Within the past two days, conventional talk has summarized doubt as to whether either package would get through the Republican-controlled House.  McCain acknowledged that his participation in the “Gang of 8” Senators proposing CIR has partially to do with the decreasing number of Hispanic voter support for his Republican party. 

Between the Gang of 8 and the Obama administration’s plans, combined with a plan House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner has been working on with other lawmakers, there could be some breakthrough this year….possibly. 

I foresee some consensus building and  likely relief for migrant workers, high-skilled, degree holding high tech immigrants and the perhaps for the  “DREAMERS”, named for the ACT that would have awarded a path to citizenship for the 4 million children of undocumented people brought to America by their parents. But there remain challenges for all else. 

Certainly, there are passionate members of the Republican base, which includes a nucleus of still quite powerful Tea Party members, who are strongly against any measure that could be interpreted as an amnesty.  Although Republican president Ronald Reagan granted amnesty to 2.6 million immigrants during his administration in the 80s, there is little support and appetite for it among many Republicans today still.  They say it awards law breakers, undermines the constitution and encourages additional and future illegal immigration. 

A recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll revealed that 58 percent of mainline Republicans and 73 percent of Tea Party Republicans opposed the proposal. 

But the Tea Party may not be the only ones against CIR.  

Scholarly survey and anecdotal research suggest that some African Americans resent immigration reform because of a universal belief that every immigrant group that has come to the United States since the Emancipation Proclamation have been able to leap frog them socially, economically, and politically. There is a perception that the system is rigged against them in favor of immigrants. 

In a November 2006 issue of News Policy, author Gilbert Jonas writes about the stagnant state of black unemployment and underemployment in metropolitan regions nationwide: 

“Does immigration affect this pattern? Since the liberalization of immigration in 1965, about thirty-five million immigrants have reached our shores — roughly equal to the entire African-American population today. With real unemployment (including those who have abandoned hope of a job) nearing ten percent, wages stagnant or worse, and unionization declining, common sense dictates that the steady flow of immigrants has impacted negatively — and harshly — on black workers, as well as on overall wage levels.” 

There is that looming dilemma and possible division. 

Immigrant migrant workers come to the states and work on farms during harvest season.


Also, personally, each day, when I drop my children at school, I sometimes stop by at a local 7-11 convenient store that is literally littered with and surrounded by loitering day laborers waiting around for a contractor, or construction managers, to pick them up for a day’s work. They would be paid under the table, work long hours, and not expect any benefits or extra pay for extra hours. Neither would they ask for nor expect the benefit of any time of labor relief that the laws require employers provide legal US employers. Their income goes into the Social Security trust fund or towards federal and state taxes that they never take back out because of their illegal status. 

Those unearned US benefits flip on the state and local level.

 Because these immigrants are low wage and skilled, they may likely send their children to public school, rely on public clinics or hospitals when they are sick or some may resort to fraud in order to obtain some social welfare benefits, food stamps or other housing subsidies. Undoubtedly, on a State and local level, they may be considered a drain on public tax-payer funded resources. 

Still, the jobs they take – as dishwashers, janitors, housekeepers, nannies, nursing home aides, maids, agricultural workers, are still seen as beneath many Americans – some of whom would rather stay home and collect unemployment than take such work. 

So in sum, it could be quite true that if granted a path to citizenship, this group would take advantage of the opportunities to work, to college and accomplish the American dream.  The very well may indeed leap frog African Americans’ progress.

 But they have always had the opportunity to attend public schools for free, pay attention, do well, excel and go to college on a federal Pell grant or get other federal loans or use their entrepreneurial spirit to open up a business, apply for and get a Small Business Loan. 

They cannot seriously blame another group for taking advantage of chances they’ve always had but failed to fully maximize. 

But of course they can and will. 


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Jeneba Ghatt
Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt is a former journalist turned lawyer turned citizen journalist. Currently, she manages her boutique communications law firm, where she has represented small businesses and nationally-recognized civil and consumer rights organizations before the United States Supreme Court, federal courts and the FCC. She also covers the White House and US Congress for the online news site while authoring her own influential blog which is frequently accessed by top policy makers and think tanks, and the investment community. focuses on the intersection of politics and technology and reports on policies and rules in the communications and tech sector.
Before opening her law firm, The Ghatt Law Group, which was the first communications firm owned by women and minorities, Jeneba regulated Comcast and Starpower as the Assistant General Counsel for the District of Columbia's Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications, and at one point was the only communications regulatory attorney in the entire city. She is founding member and policy chair for a new trade association, the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs and provides advice and counsel to new businesses in the tech industry, particularly small businesses owned by women and minorities.

Born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, but raised in the United States by her Catholic mom and Muslim dad, she started her college career creating web content for one of the earliest websites in history while working part time for the University of Maryland's Office of Technology. Following her graduation from the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, she founded and co-wrote one of the earliest blogs and since then has gone on to found and author six different widely read and influential blogs. She was one of only 22 writers and bloggers to attend the first White House summit for African American media.
She holds a Certificate in Communications Law Studies from Catholic; a Juris Doctor from there as well, and a Master of Law in advocacy degree from the Georgetown University Law Center where she first taught and lectured as a Staff Attorney and Graduate fellow at that law school's Institute for Public Representation. She later went on to teach Media Law at the University of Maryland at College Park and guest lecture at Yale Law School and Penn State University, College of Telecommunications. She is well skilled and versed with social media and manages several Twitter, Facebook, Linked In accounts and groups.
She sits on the board of several non profits and trade associations.

Contact Jeneba Ghatt


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