Anti-immigration activists demanded a stop to immigration reform during the D.C. March for Jobs Monday, saying the bill could take jobs away from black people.
The rally was organized by the Black American Leadership Alliance, a new anti-immigrant group, to protest the comprehensive immigration reform bill that recently passed in the Senate.
That bill would tighten border controls, allow more high- and low-skilled workers to legally immigrate, require employers to verify their workers' legal statuses and create an opportunity for those who are in the U.S. illegally to eventually become citizens. It could take immigrants living in the U.S. illegally at least 13 years to gain full citizenship, with taxes, fees and $2,000 in fines, according to the Associated Press. No one who entered the country after Dec. 31, 2011, has a felony conviction or more than three misdemeanors would be eligible for citizenship.
In an open letter to Congress, the alliance condemned the bill, saying illegal immigrants keep African-Americans from employment.
"If passed, the proposed immigration bill will be costly for all Americans, but will harm black American workers more than any other group," the letter reads. "Mass immigration and amnesty puts African-Americans from all walks of life out of work and suppresses wages, causing them to compete with aliens willing to work in poorer working conditions for cheaper pay."
Protesters marched from Freedom Plaza to Capitol Hill, chanting "Kill the bill," "Save our jobs," and "Hey hey, ho ho, the gang of eight has got to go," in reference to the eight lawmakers who together drafted the immigration reform bill.
Several Republican lawmakers spoke at the event, including Reps. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., and Steve King, R-Iowa, and Sens. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Brooks demanded enforcement of immigration laws already in place while condemning the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "They don't care about American jobs; they care about their profits," he said.
Sessions said there was no shortage of workers in America, just a shortage of jobs. Sessions called the Senate bill "a hammer-blow to working families."
But other lawmakers decried the Black American Leadership Alliance as seeking to provoke tensions between African-Americans, Latinos and immigrants.
Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said in a phone call with reporters that "African-Americans don't live in a vacuum and will greatly benefit by the full integration of undocumented and out of status population."
Walter Ewing, a senior researcher at the Immigration Policy Center agrees with Clarke, saying reform will actually bring higher wages for African-Americans.
"Playing a racial blame game in which immigrants are singled out as the cause of minority unemployment may be politically expedient, but it doesn't hold water when it comes to evidence," Ewing said. "The fact is that minorities living in high-immigration cities tend to have lower unemployment and higher wages than minorities in low-immigration cities. Immigrants create jobs, they don't steal them."