The convergence of affirmative action policy and mass immigration into the United States from Latin America and Asia has had some unintended consequences. Immigrants have often benefited from affirmative action programs, although they do not share the long histories of slavery and discrimination suffered by African Americans and members of other American minority groups.
Before the 1960’s, private American educational institutions and most employers could legally discriminate on the basis of race or other classifications. In 1964, the U.S. government took the lead in ending racial discrimination in education and employment by enacting the
Shortly after the Civil Rights Act was passed,
Following the urban riots that swept the nation during the late 1960’s, affirmative action programs shifted from the principle of nondiscrimination to the principle of preference. “Hard” affirmative action sets goals and time lines, in some cases set-asides and quotas, specifying numbers or percentages of minority group members who were to be hired to jobs or admitted into programs. Regardless of the law’s intentions, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 led to preferences for minorities. One of the most controversial programs that followed in its wake was the
During the 1960’s, the U.S. Congress also reformed national immigration policy. The
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 were developed without reference to each other. The convergence of legislated nondiscrimination and racial preferences with mass immigration from Latin America and Asia resulted in some unintended consequences. Because the post-1965 immigrants were mostly Hispanic and Asian–both protected classifications under federal affirmative action policy–approximately 75 percent of all post-1965 immigrants qualified for affirmative action benefits immediately upon their arrival in the United States. In contrast, members of such immigrant groups as Hasidic Jews,
Economic studies have established that poor African Americans have suffered as a result of employers hiring immigrants in order to obtain cheap labor while satisfying minority hiring requirements. Some studies have demonstrated that the chief beneficiaries of affirmative action have been women, Hispanics, and Asians–not African Americans, who were the primary target group of affirmative action programs. Also, by extending favored treatment to members of immigrant groups who have not suffered from the American legacy of slavery and discrimination, affirmative action itself has lost some of its philosophical coherence. This has led many to conclude that the original intent of affirmative action–compensation for the consequences of slavery and discrimination–has been undermined by mass immigration. Early twenty-first century recommendations have included excluding immigrants from the benefits of affirmative action under the logic that those who have only recently entered the United States have no claim to preferential treatment to make up for past wrongs. Critics of such recommendations respond that the purpose of affirmative action was not merely to compensate for past wrongs but also to give equal opportunities to those who still suffer discrimination, which would include many immigrants because of their raceor ethnicity.
“Hard” affirmative action has never had strong public support, but “soft” affirmative action has. The vast majority of Americans, immigrants included, have supported equality of opportunity but have been opposed to preferential treatment for members of racial and ethnic groups. For example, polls have shown that more than 70 percent of Hispanics dislike racial preferences. Throughout the United States, anti-affirmative action ballot measures have been passed in individual states. Studies have shown that opposition to affirmative action is grounded largely in its inconsistency with the twin national values of individualism and merit. Members of numerous immigrant groups have pointed out that immigrants come to the United States looking for economic opportunity, not preferential treatment. As such, immigrants and immigrant families are largely ambivalent about affirmative action.
Graham, Hugh Davis. Collision Course: The Strange Convergence of Affirmative Action and Immigration Policy in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Explores how affirmative action and immigration policy came into conflict when employers, acting under affirmative action plans, hired new immigrants while leaving high unemployment among inner-city African Americans. Details how affirmative action for immigrants has stirred wide resentment. Kellough, J. Edward. Understanding Affirmative Action: Politics, Discrimination, and the Search for Justice. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2006. Surveys the historical developments and impacts of affirmative action policy and procedures. Robb, James S. “Affirmative Action for Immigrants: The Entitlement Nobody Wanted.” The Social Contract 6, no. 2 (Winter, 1995). Argues that immigrants are taking advantage of affirmative action programs that were originally created to benefit disadvantaged native-born minorities and supports ending all preferences for immigrants. Skrentny, John D. The Minority Rights Revolution. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2004. Shows how Hispanics, Asians, and other groups of immigrants changed the face of American politics. _______, ed. Color Lines: Affirmative Action, Immigration, and Civil Rights Options for America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001. Examines the role of affirmative action and civil rights in the light of shifts in America’s minority populations.
African Americans and immigrants
Civil Rights movement
Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965