Atlanta corporate attorney and Democratic Georgia
state senator Kasim Reed was deeply distressed at our March
13 BC cover story "Blacks
and Browns: The Need to Make Common Cause." We know
because he told us so. BC spelled out the
tale of Reed's shameful attempt to ape the demagogic meanness
of Republicans on the immigration issue. In a bill that had
no chance of passage, Reed proposed, among other things, to
lock up anyone who applied for a job in Georgia with a fake
ID for five years. With no detectable irony in his voice, Reed
assured BC in a phone conversation that he
was acting to "protect the jobs and living standards"
of black families in Georgia.
be clear. Kasim Reed is no champion of working people in Georgia
or anyplace else. Senator Reed is a corporate attorney, a partner
in the transnational firm of Holland & Knight with offices
in Palm Beach, Tel Aviv, metro DC, Atlanta, Beijing, and elsewhere.
Holland & Knight is heavily involved in union busting, or
as legal firms prefer to call it, "union avoidance"
- advising employers how best to intimidate, coerce and selectively
fire employees, how to bend, skirt and occasionally break the
law to prevent formation of labor unions and break existing
ones. The firm is a major anti-environmental player on the
national stage, representing
the chemical industry on Capitol Hill. It maintains deep connections
with the Republican party, and its partners advise Republican
state legislators on how best to disenfranchise black voters
via the redistricting process in Georgia and other states.
We asked Reed about the incongruity between posing
as an advocate of the rights of working families and the union
busting practices of his law firm. Amazingly, the man told
us that he couldn't be responsible for what all 13,000 lawyers
at the firm actually did,
and that he should be judged on his own record. Supposing for
the moment that this is an acceptable answer, his bio
page on the company web site tells us all we need to know
about that record.
"M. Kasim Reed represents employers in
employment law matters, including sex, age and disability discrimination,
civil rights litigation, and contract-related disputes... He
has extensive experience representing employers before various
state and federal courts, as well as before the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission and other federal and state administrative
There it is. The black state senator who rails
against brown immigrants for "taking black jobs" practices
employment discrimination law - for employers - and civil rights
law for the corporate violators of civil rights. With that
bit of context firmly established, we here reprint Reed's email
To the Publishers:
The BC article was factually
incorrect on several counts and failed to properly discuss
my position on illegal immigration in Georgia. I am an unabashed
supporter of legal immigration and legal immigrants in our
country. After all, our country is a nation of immigrants. Our
state benefits greatly from the contributions of immigrants
in every way possible. I have never, and will never,
oppose the right of someone who seeks to enter our county
under the laws established by our citizens.
After studying this issue in the legislature,
we concluded that we could not simply do nothing about the
illegal immigration problem in Georgia because it hurts working
people and the federal government has failed to act. The
bill I authored punishes individuals who present fraudulent
documents to employers by making this offense a misdemeanor
for the first offense and a felony on the second offense.
This was not properly explained by Mr. Dixon.
Mr. Dixon fails to mention that the legislation
seeks to establish fines in the amount of $12,800 per employee
against employers who violate the statute. The Pew Hispanic
Center recently released a study showing that you can not
address the problem of illegal immigration without addressing
the employer side of the issue. My bill did that.
Dixon also asserted that I was a member of the
Democratic Leadership Council. While I respect that
organization and the work it does on a variety of issues,
I am not a member. A simple fact check or telephone
call to me would have revealed that. Further, the "current
Republican leader for the Georgia State Senate" is not
a "former Democrat."
Unfortunately Black Commentator has produced
a very poor and unprofessional piece of journalism without
the normal fact checking that most credible journalistic organizations
Mr. Dixon completely ignores Republican measures
on the immigration issue which Democrats worked vigorously
to defeat. I also notice a consistent pattern in his writing
of denigrating Democrats, while ignoring Republican’s role
in leading on issues which are damaging to our community.
Increasingly, the privilege of public service is tarnished
by people like Mr. Dixon who too often ignore basic facts,
misconstrue motives and take ill informed cheap shots at those
who are working to find solutions to complex problems which
impact each of us. Nonetheless, I am going to do
my job on the front lines of the struggle in the Georgia State
Senate where this effort continues every day.
The only factual error in our BC
cover story was that the Republican leader of the Georgia senate
in 2002 wasn't a former Democrat. We never said Reed was a
DLC member. We did call him a "DLC Democrat" because
the DLC claimed him as "New
Democrat of the Week" on their website. That's good
enough. As for BC ignoring the damage Republicans
do, we slammed Reed precisely for following the Republican lead
on criminalizing immigration. And we didn't bore our readers
with the employer sanctions aspect of Reed's bill because they
are empty threats. Employer sanctions have been on the books
since the 1980s. BC wasn't the only publication
not to take Reed's bill any more seriously than he did.
"...Reed had no hope of passing his bill,"
noted Atlanta's Creative Loafing newspaper. "... the plan
was for it to be rejected by the GOP so Democrats wouldn't look
soft on illegal immigration in the fall elections.''
In the real world, proposals to criminalize immigration
or to lock up folks who apply for a job with a false ID are
demagogic. Nobody is going to round up, imprison and deport
millions of people back to their countries of origin. They
may propose it to provoke divisions and get votes, but it's
just not going to happen.
antics of senator Reed aside, immigration is an issue African
Americans need to understand and to take seriously. The presence
of millions of undocumented immigrants with no right to demand
fair treatment gives the kind of greedy and/or racist employers
whom Kasim Reed represents a choice. They can hire African
Americans who are the most likely of all workers to join unions
and stand up for themselves. Or they can hire the undocumented
who dare not speak up for fear of jail or deportation. Needless
to say, this is a bad bargain for immigrants and a worse one
for African Americans.
For black America, the immigration issue is all
about labor market competition. So-called legal "guest
worker" programs solve the labor market problem in favor
of employers, by allowing an employer to directly "pull
the trigger" and initiate deportation proceedings against
immigrant workers who step out of line. Thus "guest worker"
programs preserve the two-tier labor market that employers dearly
love. Solving the labor market problem in favor of black America
would require a level playing field where discrimination of
all kinds is outlawed and everyone has the right to organize
and join unions, to bargain collectively and to strike. Everybody.
Back in BC’s August
22, 2002, issue we printed a passage from black South Carolina
Representative Jim Clyburn in which he told how, back in the
early 1970s, as an aide to his state's governor, he ran across
an economic development memo that was certainly not meant for
"The memorandum had been written by an
economic development consultant and listed counties to be avoided
when recruiting industry to the state. These counties were all
rural and all predominantly black. The theory was that South
Carolina, a right to work state, could see the proliferation
of labor unions if industries located in these counties because
African Americans were deemed to be ‘joiners.’ At the time I
didn't understand the significance of what I had seen. Today
do too. Studies indicate that African American women are the
most likely to organize and join unions, followed by African
American men. Next most likely are Latino women, followed by
Latino men, and finally white women followed by the least likely
"joiners" of all - white men. Kasim Reed and his
clients know this very well. One of the chief objectives of
America's political class then, is to sow every possible obstacle
in the path of these groups of likely joiners, blacks and browns,
working together. For corporate America, nobody could make
a better spearchucker against the "brown menace" than
a black politician. Kasim Reed is just doing his job
for his clients.
Finally, in his letter, Reed claims that he took
up the immigration issue because the federal government "failed
to act." Leaving aside the principle that he failed to
learn at Howard University Law School - that a state can no
more have its own immigration policy than print its own currency
or float its own navy - there are lots of other issues the federal
government has failed to act on where states could conceivably
take the progressive lead.
BC asked a local pastor, Rev.
Timothy McDonald of Atlanta's First
Iconium Baptist Church, what issues he would suggest Reed
tackle, if it was about acting where the federal government
"Mandatory sentencing - Georgia's two strikes
laws. We could show the nation something there. We could reduce
the number of our children, our nieces and nephews, our brothers
and our sisters behind those walls. That would be progressive.
That would be something. That would be leadership."
We are afraid that if the thin-skinned senator
and corporate attorney from Atlanta found BC's
first mention of him displeasing, he won't like this issue any
better. BC is not Black Enterprise, or
Ebony magazine, or BET's "How
I'm Livin'." Unlike these kinds of "black
oriented media" the purpose of real journalism is not
to market lifestyles and products. It's not to showcase
the homes, careers and possessions of African Americans who
have "made it." The press is the only profession
with its own constitutional amendment so that it can fearlessly
speak truth to power. The next time Kasim Reed wants some
favorable press he should call up BET. Maybe they'll feature
his place on the next "How I'm Livin'."
BC Editor Bruce Dixon can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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