July 20, 2007

Commentary:

Is Ted Hayes the New Ward Connerly?

By Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad
Los Angeles Sentinel

Illegal immigration reform is a salient issue in America today. Particularly among the Republicans who consider this issue “a border crisis.” Congress’ effort to legislate a solution was met when a last minute Republican filibuster stalled a viable solution to addressing the 12 million resident aliens in the country, a measured naturalization process for those who qualified. It was said that it was too much like amnesty. But now the Republicans have pulled out their latest secret weapon, former homeless advocate now black Republican, Ted Hayes. Hayes, who came to the nation’s attention as a homeless advocate in the 1990s, has abandoned the homeless movement that has taken on a disproportionately African American hue (at a time when Los Angeles is the homeless capital of the nation) for a new “Black movement.” Illegal immigration.

Hayes, the only homeless advocate I ever knew to have Laker floor seats, and the only one to take homeless people on a field hockey trip to Europe, never engaged in anything “black” when he was a homeless advocate. But now he wants to be the African American voice standing arm and arm with the Minutemen movement and border patrol civilians who take it as their civil right to defend their property. Here’s a man who claims to have no property, representing (or used to represent) property-less people, suddenly looking to protect the rights of property owners and national citizenship. What’s wrong with this picture?

Or maybe the more relevant question is, what’s behind it? Ted Hayes, coincidentally, has become a Republican and has interjected himself in a fight that has a racial element—white conservative Minutemen-protecting America from illegal invasion that assaults their “American values.” Though Mexican immigrants represent less than forty percent of all the illegal immigrants that enter the nation each year, they’re the only ones being called out.

There’s something openly racist about this. So what better way to hide the hypocrisy of this contradiction than to interject a counter-racial component, that blacks are being hurt by illegal immigration. The same argument, and the same strategy was used a dozen years ago, when Affirmative Action came under attack.

Being attacked by whites made it a race issue that would be perceived as “racial” so Republican conservatives came up with a black face to sell a bad bill of goods—that Affirmative Action was bad for everybody, including blacks. Ward Connerly became the face of the anti-Affirmative Action movement and the “colorblind” politic has led to the deconstruction of Affirmative Action. Ted Hayes and his “Choose Black” politic is becoming to the anti-immigration movement what Ward Connerly’s “Civil Rights” initiative was to the anti-Affirmative Action movement. Connerly is paid, by conservative think tanks and Republican policy forums, over a million dollars a year to overturn affirmative action state by state. How much is a homeless man being paid to go around the nation to round (or rouse) up blacks against immigration reform?

Ted Hayes is on record stating that “illegal immigration is the biggest threat to blacks since slavery.” But we know the biggest threat to blacks has been this colorblindness that Republican conservatives use these new black Republicans to espouse policies that undermine the progress of the historical race disparities African Americans have spent 140 years trying to make up. And with GOP support, suddenly Ted Hayes is “black” again.

For the last year, as immigrants have pressed the citizenship question and others have tried to press African Americans into a position on this, I’ve insisted that this is not our issue. There is nothing to be lost, or gained, in African Americans coming out for, or against, immigration reform. There are more issues that impact African Americans nationally that we could be vocal about. Immigration reform is not one of them. It’s an issue for conservatives concerned about illegal immigration’s impact on national security. For social and fiscal moderates, it’s the economy and immigration’s impact on the suppression of wages. Both are legitimate issues. However, for poor people—the issue has been around the competition for jobs and the illusion that immigrants are taking jobs from good hardworking Americans.

I say this position is illusionary because immigrants aren’t taking jobs from blacks or anybody else. They make jobs where there are no jobs, and only take jobs for wages that nobody will work for, including blacks. Moreover, blacks and Latinos both are impacted by wage suppression that using illegal labor brings about. Attacking each other would benefit neither, and most black and Latino groups recognize this.

So far, every time Hayes has showed up somewhere with his “Choose Black” rhetoric, he is met with greater number of unified black and Latino groups working together to improve economic injustice in poor communities. If choosing “Black America” is the advocation, why would it be choose illegal immigration over the economic exploitation that promotes the wage suppression and wealth disparities that exploit both races. If Hayes wants to advocate for justice, why would he side with the injustice that continues to blame the poor for the nation’s problems when the top one percent of population hold 40 percent of the wealth? Maybe it’s because the pay is better to advocate against the poor and oppressed than it is to advocate with them.

But he’s given up the homeless gig for one that pays better, attacking immigrants and trying to interject blacks in the conflict to deflect attention anyway from those who have issue with Mexican immigrants—but none of the other immigrants coming into the country. Hayes’ anti-immigration advocacy is a ploy that most blacks aren’t buying into. But, like Ward Connerly before him, Hayes has been bought and sold to the anti-immigration forces as “the Black Face” in the movement. It’s worked before.

Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad n is managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of the upcoming book, “Saving The Race: Empowerment Through Wisdom.”

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