Once upon a time, during a period known as the Eighties and the Nineties, Al Sharpton – preacher, civil rights activist, media personality, inciter of crowds, and celebrant of all things black – routinely answered to words such as “loud,” “flamboyant” and “crazy.” But for the last decade and a half, the man known as Reverend Al goes by words such as “pragmatic,” “respectable,” “sensible” and “powerful.” Times change, and not necessarily for the better. On the issue of immigration amnesty, that’s especially true.
Al Sharpton, a man who has perfected the art of extracting money and other things of value from the pillars of American society, no longer has to kick down doors to get what he wants. The doors have been opened for him. And many of the people admitting him are those who formerly avoided him as radioactive. As my book, Sharpton: A Demagogue’s Rise, describes, Reverend Al’s audacious campaign for the Democratic nomination for president a decade and a half ago proved to be the turning point. Sharpton, who now calls himself a “refined agitator,” has morphed into a gray eminence of the American Left. Of course, he didn’t win the party nomination much less the general election in 2004. But that wasn’t the point of running. The point was to gain public credibility for his brand of “civil rights” advocacy. And on that level, his gambit has been a resounding success.
Sharpton remains adept at rousing black audiences to mass protest alleged police atrocities against blacks, a skill he has demonstrated in recent years in Baltimore, Tulsa, North Charleston (South Carolina), Ferguson (Missouri) and elsewhere. Yet he also realizes that to gain and maintain power, one must work with the powerful. His early endorsement of Barack Obama for president was a shrewd stroke of strategizing. It helped ease the way for a close partnership with Obama during the latter’s eight years in the White House. Reverend Al established a Washington, D.C. beachhead during that time. He attended dozens of White House meetings with Obama and/or top aides; served as the administration’s unofficial liaison to the black community; opened a Washington office of his New York City-based nonprofit National Action Network (NAN); and initiated annual two-day policy conferences on Capitol Hill featuring panel presentations and speeches by a parade of civil rights activists and members of Congress. Sharpton was, and remains, a power broker.
Sharpton’s views, far from being out of the mainstream, are almost indistinguishable from those of the AFL-CIO, the NAACP and the Democratic Party. Whether this is because Sharpton moved rightward (not likely) or because these organizations moved further leftward than they already had been (very likely) is a separate issue. What matters here is that because he has retooled himself as a “pragmatic” problem solver, his natural allies in the upper reaches of American life no longer have to cringe at the thought of associating with him. Many in fact subsidize him. Sharpton oscillates with ease between the suites and the streets, rendering himself more effective both as a leader to blacks and a source of pressure on political leaders of all races.
The coming of the Trump era, far from throwing cold water on Sharpton’s resolve to be a force in the nation’s capital, merely strengthened it. In fact, Sharpton got an early start. On January 14, 2017, during a NAN-sponsored Washington rally timed for Martin Luther King Day and the pending Trump inauguration, Sharpton announced to the crowd that the resistance had begun. “We come not to appeal to Donald Trump because he’s made it clear what his policies are and what his nominations are,” he said. “We come to say to Democrats in the Senate and in the House and to the moderate Republicans: ‘Get some backbone. Get some guts. We didn’t send you down here to be weak-kneed.’”
One of the uppermost issues in Sharpton’s mind is immigration. That has a lot do with race. Virtually all immigration to the United States during the last few decades has been due to nonwhites, or to put it in Leftspeak, “people of color.” According to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data, there were 3.8 million foreign-born blacks, many of them naturalized citizens, living in America in 2013, a figure representing 8.7 percent of the total U.S. immigrant population. Sharpton, like other like-minded immigration enthusiasts, is aware of this racial dimension. He views virtually any attempt to restrict immigration, legal or otherwise, as a subterfuge for racism. In a February 7, 2018 tweet from the address @TheRevAl, for example, Sharpton appealed to his supporters to flood the congressional switchboard with calls to block deportations of people living here illegally. The intent was to highlight National Action Network’s “National Day of Action for a Dream Act Now.” Sharpton’s tweet read: “NAN & I stand w/the immigrant community today & everyday. Immigrant rights = Civil Rights, Call Congress today! #cleandreamactnow #ExtendTPS.”
Triggering this burst of indignation was the decision last September by President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which granted amnesty to hundreds of thousands of people (“Dreamers”) who came to America from abroad as minors (under age 16), often brought here by their illegal immigrant parents and had lived in the U.S. continuously since June 15, 2007. So long as a beneficiary holds a job, attends college or serves (or has served honorably) in the military, and meets certain other requirements, DACA allows that person can remain in the U.S. indefinitely. The program owes its existence to the assumption that coming to and remaining in America is a civil right. Residing here illegally, in this view, should not be a basis for deportation.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals originated as part of proposed legislation kicking around since 2001 known as the DREAM Act. Led by Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the measure passed the House in 2010 but died in the face of a Senate filibuster. A frustrated Obama, deciding that circumventing Congress was necessary to break the ongoing impasse, announced the creation of DACA on June 15, 2012. This executive fiat of dubious constitutionality, funded almost entirely by $495 per person application fees, authorizes eligible participants to remain in America. That August, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services began accepting applications. By late 2017, USCIS had approved roughly 800,000 persons, though due to attrition, only around 690,000 were still receiving benefits. President Obama, apparently believing that anything worth doing is worth overdoing, in 2014 proposed a dramatic expansion of the program. Justifiably, the courts thwarted this gambit. By now, the program is even less justifiable even when judged by its ostensible purpose. Though most of the mainly Mexican and Central American beneficiaries had entered the U.S. at age 10 or younger, the majority currently are at least in their 20s. DACA is not about “helping children.”
President Donald Trump has no such illusions. In an August 31, 2016 campaign speech in Phoenix, he noted, “It’s our right, as a sovereign nation, to choose immigrants that we think are the likeliest to thrive and flourish and love us…We will be fair, just and compassionate to all, but our greatest compassion must be for our American citizens.” He added: “Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation. That is what it means to have laws and to have a country. Otherwise we don’t have a country.” This was a perfectly sensible expression of a statesman’s natural imperative to defend one’s own people. For his effort, as if it could not have been predicted, Trump has been blitzed with epithets such as “racist,” “supremacist” and “bully.”
Several months in office, President Trump ended DACA. On September 5, 2017, he announced a six-month phaseout plan in which new applications would cease but in which Congress would retain the authority to pass permanent DREAM Act legislation to ease the way to citizenship for existing beneficiaries. Trump noted that he had advised the Department of Homeland Security that “DACA recipients are not enforcement priorities unless they are criminals, are involved in a criminal gang, or are members of a gang.” It was a generous compromise, arguably too much of one for many immigration patriots. Yet the gesture went over poorly with interest groups with a stake in maintaining high levels of immigration. The ACLU, the Anti-Defamation League and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce each denounced the White House proposal, as did religious organizations such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the United Methodist Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Janet Murguia, president of the Hispanic ethnic pressure group, National Council of La Raza, which only weeks before had renamed itself UnidosUS, fumed that the Trump plan was “unspeakably cruel and gratuitous,” an appeal to “anti-immigrant extremists.”
Rest assured Al Sharpton has not been missing in action. Reverend Al, in fact, long has viewed immigration to this country as a moral right. For him, any attempt to draw distinctions between legality and illegality of one’s presence here is immoral. In his 2002 autobiography, Al on America, published a few months before he declared his candidacy for U.S. president, Sharpton wrote, barely coherently, with respect to Mexico:
Clearly, Mexicans are treated in a discriminatory manner by this country. We close the borders but allow a few to come here illegally, and turn our heads as long as they agree to be slaves or the closest thing to a slave that you can be. But don’t let them come here with any self-respect or ambition. If they agree to wash the dishes in our restaurants or clean our homes or watch our children for the lowest wages imaginable, off the books, then welcome to America.
“We close the borders” – what planet was this man living on?
Sharpton apparently is none the wiser today. Opposition to illegal immigration from south of our border, Reverend Al believes, is little more than camouflaged racism. On June 19, 2018, Sharpton, standing outside the U.S. Capitol Building with several other civil rights leaders and Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., attacked the protective detention of children of illegal immigrants by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) this way: “I do not believe that President Trump would implement this (zero tolerance policy toward illegal border crossings) at the Canadian border. There is the inference here that because these are children of color that there’s a different policy for them.” Sharpton seems oblivious to the fact that illegal crossings into the U.S. from Canada are minuscule compared to those from Mexico and that many people who cross over from Mexico represent a security risk.
Al Sharpton brings this attitude to his opposition to the termination of DACA, which in January 2018 was indefinitely blocked by a San Francisco federal judge, pending resolution of lawsuits filed on behalf of amnesty seekers and which this month was ordered fully restored by a District Columbia federal judge. On September 5, 2017, the day of the administration’s announcement of the DACA cancellation, Sharpton made an economic appeal to retain the program. “The Trump administration and Attorney General Sessions’ decision today to ‘rescind’ DACA is but another example of an anti-equal opportunity, anti-civil rights agenda that has no basis in fact,” he admonished. “There is evidence that 91 percent of Dreamers are employed and contribute to the American economy.” This is misleading nonsense. Even if, hypothetically, 100 percent of all adult “Dreamers” were employed, that would not alter the fact that large numbers of Americans are perfectly capable of taking “immigrant” entry-level jobs and making valuable contributions to our economy – and with far less usage of public welfare programs.
Inevitably, Reverend Al views the phaseout of DACA as harmful to blacks. In an interview with BlackAmericaWeb.com last September, he stated: “This is somehow just for Mexicans. But there are many from the Caribbean and Africa who are affected by this. Let’s not act like this does not affect us.” Of course, President Trump is the bogeyman. “Donald Trump has so far done everything against people of color,” said Sharpton. “He pardoned a man who was convicted for racial profiling in the middle of Hurricane Harvey.”
Sharpton is not the only black activist eager to defend DACA. Opal Tometi, executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) and co-founder of the social network of demagogues known as Black Lives Matter, issued her own statement. “By canceling the (DACA) program,” she said, “President Trump is yet again pandering to white supremacists over immigrant, black, and poor communities, as well as millions of organizations, businesses and allies that support DACA recipients.” Recently, BAJI and New York University School of Law estimated that there are 565,000 “undocumented” black immigrants living in the U.S. Apparently, that is a number that should not be allowed to come down. Meanwhile, Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, denounced the Trump administration with overbearing contempt and sentimentality. “Once again,” said Richmond, “President Trump has shown his ignorance of what makes America great in the first place and the very people who contribute to that greatness. His morally bankrupt policy will tear young people, folks who were brought to this country as children through no fault of their own, away from their families and the only home they’ve ever known.” The congressman seems to be forgetting that it was the decision by their parents to come here illegally and game our system of public benefits that triggered this situation in the first place. Or perhaps Americans don’t really contribute all that much to America.
Not surprisingly, Sharpton’s friend, former President Barack Obama, took the opportunity to scold his successor over the DACA cancellation. “To target these young people is wrong – because they have done nothing wrong,” said Obama of Trump. “And this is cruel. This is about whether we are a people who kick hopeful young strivers out of America, or whether we treat them the way we’d want our own kids to be treated. It’s about who we are as a people – and who we want to be.” The former president seems to be missing a few things here. First, as mentioned earlier, these “kids” for the most part are no longer kids. They are adults. Second, also mentioned earlier, their parents came here illegally with the intent of rendering their children virtually immune to deportation. These parents deserve to be removed from the country every bit as much as their offspring do. And third, America’s “own kids” and immigrant “young strivers” are not of the same priority. The rights and interests of Americans come first. This is the essence of sovereignty, a concept with which Barack Obama seems only intermittently familiar.
Obama’s good friend, Reverend Al Sharpton, remains a reprobate. Yet he also should be understood as a symptom of a larger contempt toward the idea that America has a historic identity worth keeping. Such an identity, he and allied activists assert, is for the most part oppressive, racist, exploitative and not worth keeping. They see DACA as a key element in a long-term project of demographic and cultural transformation. They are being aided by persons and organizations, who while not necessarily radical, see the national interest as secondary to their own economic interests. It makes perfect sense that Sharpton’s National Action Network, which now takes in about $5 million to $7 million annually, is heavily funded by corporations and unions. For corporate and union leaders, if for different reasons, support virtually unrestricted immigration. Corporations get to reduce their labor costs; unions get to expand their organizing capacity. Indeed, on the issue of immigration, a NAN press release is almost indistinguishable from a press release issued by Airbnb, Comcast, Facebook, Verizon, the American Federation of Teachers or the Service Employees International Union. All have been recent donors to NAN and all celebrate “diversity,” which in the current political context, has nothing to do with a diversity of opinion and everything to do with a diversity of demography of people ordered to hold an identical set of opinions.
This is an issue that transcends partisan politics. The ulterior goal of mass immigration advocates like Sharpton is the reconfiguration of our nation as a permanent global sanctuary. Al Sharpton still primarily defines himself by his race. Yet he also is a key figure in a broad coalition of ideologues, ethnic capos, misguided humanitarians and economic opportunists who view American identity, sovereignty and rule of law as expendable. Yes, Reverend Al has mellowed. But that doesn’t make him any less dangerous than during his wilder days.