For Martin Luther King Day, as we remember a powerful civil rights leader, we should also consider the civil rights implications of choices made by Congress on immigration policy today.  Those who call immigration reform a “civil rights” issue but also support amnesty (such as Eric Holder and Mark Zuckerberg) make the serious mistake of forgetting about one particular segment of the population who are disproportionally harmed: the black American worker.

One of the few to address this matter of civil rights has been Peter Kirsanow, an African-American Commissioner currently serving on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. This month, Kirsanow wrote that if Congress were to pass amnesty legislation, it would “send the employment numbers falling further down the cliff — especially the employment numbers for low-skilled Americans” further noting that “illegal immigration has displaced hundreds of thousands of black American workers alone.”

Kirsanow backs up his assertion with thorough evidence and research.  Kirsanow pointed to a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report finding that “Illegal immigration to the United States in recent decades has tended to depress both wages and employment rates for low-skilled American citizens, a disproportionate number of whom are black men.”  At the hearing that proceeded that report, a group of ideologically diverse scholars all agreed that illegal immigration has a negative impact on black employment, both for employment opportunities as well as wages.

Alarmed by the dwindling job prospects for minorities if Congress passes an amnesty, Commissioner Kirsanow joined with two colleagues on the Commission last year to write a letter to the Congressional Black Caucus, declaring, that “[g]ranting amnesty to illegal immigrants will only further harm African-American workers…[by] making it difficult for African-Americans to find job opportunities.”  The Commissioners explained that there are simply not enough jobs in the low-skilled labor market for both blacks and illegal aliens.  If Congress passes amnesty, African-Americans are the ones disproportionately harmed.  The letter warned Members of Congress considering immigration reform to seriously evaluate the “earnings prospects of low-skill Americans generally and black Americans specifically.”

Kirsanow’s point seems to be heard at least by 16 Members of Congress.  These 16 wrote to President Obama on behalf of the African-Americans in this country who are “enduring chronically high unemployment.”  They called for no amnesty.  They are also calling for civil rights.