Earlier this month, 13 Black farmworkers reached a settlement with two Mississippi Delta farm operators over immigration and racial discrimination. The settlements were not about the sharecropping of old, nor were they seeking restitution from slave plantations, some of which still operate as tourist attractions. Instead, the recent lawsuits alleged that white Mississippi farm operators withheld wages from Black Americans, imported white South Africans to replace American workers, paid the white South Africans nearly four dollars more per hour, and, in some cases, even paid for the living expenses of the immigrants.
We need to call this what it is: Immigrant First Human Resources. And it’s a disgrace.
Immigrant First HR practices lack patriotism, whether they are implemented in Black-led northern sanctuary cities or white-run rural America. Yet this is not the first time Mississippi’s agriculture businesses have found themselves on the wrong side of the equation about immigration and anti-Black American racism, even in these modern times.
Recall that during a 2019 immigration enforcement raid, President Trump’s administration discovered over 700 jobs where Black Mississippians had been replaced by illegal aliens in seven of Mississippi’s poultry plants. Black Americans are routinely let go from agriculture work in favor of cheaper and exploitable immigrants—yet armchair pundits accuse the descendants of U.S. slaves of thinking we are “too good” to do these jobs. And this despite the fact that when U.S. immigration laws are finally enforced, local Black Americans reapply for the jobs and are rehired.
The accusation that Black Americans are “too uppity” for agricultural work is but another version of the lie that immigrants take jobs Americans won’t do. Black Americans do indeed have high expectations about workplace culture. We want humane work conditions and fair treatment. Indeed, every American should.
The reality is, immigrants are taking jobs that we not only would do, but were already doing before they were hired to replace us. The Black farmers in these lawsuits were fired after they trained the white immigrants.
In fact, many Black farmers of the American South hail from families that have worked in agriculture for generations—families that participated in the debt-based system of sharecropping and as independent farms during Jim Crow.
In 1910, Black Americans owned 16 million acres of land. By 2016, we held fewer than 5 million acres. Racial discrimination played a role in our loss of $326 billion worth of acreage in the 20th century alone. Contributing factors included land theft by fellow farmers and the discriminatory practices of USDA’s local white administrators who withheld financial support to Black farmers. And as with all multigenerational farming families, some Black children chose to go to college rather than remaining in the agriculture industry.
Not so for the farmers in these lawsuits, who wanted to continue farming, as did their children. Yet these multigenerational Black Americans were essentially required to train their immigrant replacements.
“I miss working the land,” one of them told a New York Times reporter wistfully as we watched a tractor go by with a white immigrant in the driver’s seat.
It’s not just in agriculture, though. American businesses seem to have a patriotism problem. Given their pro-immigrant human resource practices, it’s time to ask if they care about American workers, and especially the Black ones.
To make a dollar, U.S. companies seem willing to sell out American workers at any skill level. It seems to me that some companies are “American” to the extent that their businesses are organized within the borders of our nation, yet they certainly do not seem to place their loyalties here.
What ought we to do about that?
Part of the social contract between American citizens and our economic system is an obligation to put the people’s economic needs first. That obligation means we Americans ought to be at the front of the hiring line for job opportunities, and priority funding should be provided to businesses that are started by Americans.
Our American-born brightest minds and innovations should be fast tracked, too. A healthy social contract means American companies and our nation have a native-born talent management and labor sourcing plan that ensures Americans are well resourced before we recruit from the other eight billion people in the world.
I don’t know who needs to hear this but, replacing Americans with foreign workers is an egregious afront to your fellow countrymen. Americans should be insulted, whether they work for a customer service center that was outsourced overseas or are an American tech employee replaced by a foreign worker on an H-1B visa or are a descendant of U.S. slaves replaced by white South Africans here on an H-2 visa.
I encourage every American to vet the patriotism of companies before they purchase a good or service. Ask if each company uses e-verify to confirm its employees and contractors are American citizens. Confirm that an organization requires vendors to verify if subcontractors and suppliers are American citizens. Write your national and state legislators to let them know you want policies that support an Americans First labor sourcing plan which includes mandating that all companies confirm the citizenship status of workers.
If you see something, say something to your elected officials and immigration enforcement authorities when an incident of illegal immigration happens, or visa abuse is reported.
Lastly, look in the mirror. If you find yourself sympathizing more with the imported white South African immigrants than the displaced Black American farmers, you are part of the problem. Check your lack of patriotism, too.
Pamela Denise Long is CEO of Youthcentrix® Therapy Services, a business focused on helping organizations implement trauma-informed practices and diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism (DEIA) at the systems level. Connect with Ms. Long online at www.youthcentrix.com or @PDeniseLong on social media.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.