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Activist calls amnesty a `slap in the face' to blacks

WASHINGTON—An ally of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is the new face of opposition to proposals like one that President Bush champions to allow undocumented immigrants to gain citizenship.

T. Willard Fair, the president of the Urban League of Greater Miami, is appearing in ads in The Washington Post and RollCall, a Capitol Hill newspaper, saying that "to black Americans, amnesty is an immoral seizure of our jobs."

"Amnesty for illegal workers is not just a slap in the face to black Americans. It's an economic disaster," he says in the ad, which identifies him as a civil rights leader.

The ad cites a 2006 National Bureau of Economic Research paper that suggests a "strong correlation between immigration, black wages, black employment rates and black incarceration rates."

Other economists, though, have suggested that the numbers don't hold up.

Wade Henderson, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, which supports earned citizenship, said the ad preyed on fears.

"I understand the concerns, but it's wrong on the facts and it's wrong on its reflection of black interest," said Henderson, a former NAACP official. "It's wrong for the country as a whole and it's not where black people are."

The ads are sponsored by the Coalition for the Future American Worker. Its members include the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which wants to beef up border security, end illegal immigration and cut legal immigration in half.

"I see illegal immigration and the adverse impact that it has on the political empowerment of African-Americans, and the impact it has on the job market," Fair, a political independent, said in a telephone interview.

The ad quotes Fair saying that black Americans have lost "hundreds of thousands of jobs to foreign workers willing to work for next to nothing," and it blames undocumented immigrants for "40 percent of the decline in employment among black American men."

Fair said in the interview that he also was worried that unchecked immigration could cost blacks politically, by diluting mostly black congressional districts.

"As we are at a zenith of our political power, with what's happening with illegal immigration we could easily lose six or eight seats," he said.

Fair said he hadn't talked about his stance with Jeb Bush, who appointed him to Florida's Board of Education and with whom he co-founded the state's first charter school, in Miami.

"I don't need permission to talk to people about things that are important to me," Fair said. "This is not disrespectful of Jeb or George. I'd be a puppet if I agreed with everything they did."

Fair's comments come as critics line up opposition to legislation that would provide a means to citizenship. The Senate is expected to debate immigration legislation next month, followed by the House of Representatives.

Though Democrats criticized Republicans for not passing legislation last year, when they were in the majority in Congress, critics suggest that parts of the Democratic base—including some labor groups and blacks—are less than enthusiastic about including earned citizenship for those who are in the country illegally.

The NAACP has endorsed allowing a path to citizenship. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, has said he won't support legislation that doesn't include an earned path to citizenship. Ricky Clemons, the vice president of communication for the National Urban League, said the group hadn't taken a stance on immigration.

Advocates for a comprehensive immigration overhaul point to a recent USA Today/Gallup poll in which 78 percent of those surveyed supported earned citizenship for some undocumented workers.

"The debate has shifted," said Frank Sharry, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum. "These people are here, and most Americans have decided, `We don't want to give them a free pass, but if we make rules and they jump through hoops they should be given a chance at citizenship.'"

In a poll of 800 registered voters conducted for the group and released Wednesday, 70 percent of black Americans surveyed supported a path to citizenship, compared with 75 percent of whites.

Fair said he thought that black leaders had been reluctant to criticize immigration because immigrants had been among the first to embrace black civil rights organizations.

Roy Beck, the executive director of NumbersUSA, which belongs to the Coalition for the Future American Worker and supports capping immigration, said he hoped to run radio spots featuring Fair. He said he was captivated by Fair after he attended a symposium in Washington on blacks and immigration that Fair had initiated.

"I wondered why aren't the black leaders standing up for black workers," Beck said. "Willard is willing to say the emperor has no clothes."


(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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