Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

For several years I (and others) have called the way in which immigrants both documented and undocumented – “the new slavery.” If you believe that politics as usual can die, the president’s statements about immigration at the Esperanza National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast and Conference last week were very encouraging.

President Obama declared that he is committed to a “comprehensive immigration overhaul.” The dilemma with this statement is that the word “comprehensive” often includes an amnesty provision for undocumented persons. The problem with blanket amnesty is that there is a wide variety of people within the huge immigrant community, ranging from criminals who scoff at our laws to dedicated family people. To date, a great number of pandering politicians want to avoid dealing with the complexity of the current situation by simply waving the magic wand of amnesty.

The president paid homage to all the right aspects of the problem. He said three important things:

1. U.S. borders must be strengthened to thwart illegal immigration.

2. Provisions must be made to deal with illegals.

3. Employers of undocumented workers are a huge part of the problem.

Specifically the president stated, “The American people believe in immigration, but they also believe that we can't tolerate a situation where people come to the United States in violation of the law, nor can we tolerate employers who exploit undocumented workers in order to drive down wages.”

Although there has been a resurgence of actual chattel slavery around the world, the phrase “the new slavery” has been reserved for the American problem of immigration. I coined this phrase nearly five years ago. The comparison with the African-American condition was a natural one because chattel slavery in the U.S. was based on economics. Further, slavery took years to resolve because the moral outrage around the issue was less demanding that the economic needs of the nation. While racism was used to justify this abomination, it took a civil war to ultimately free the slaves. Finally, the victims of American slavery could not free themselves.

In the American culture of our day, there is a very large economic component of the problem which is complicated by the fact that both parties would like to make political capital (namely the large Hispanic swing vote) by claiming credit for breaking the shackles of this huge problem.


Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.