Activist fails to rally blacks on illegal-immigration
(* The highlights etc. are mine)
Ted Hayes is making little ground in uniting those who believe that
migrants pose an economic threat.
By Teresa Watanabe,
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
December 31, 2007
The forum seemed
tailor-made for Ted Hayes, the Los Angeles activist for the homeless who
has become one of the nation's most visible African Americans raising a
ruckus about illegal immigration.
A mostly black crowd had gathered at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal
Church in South Los Angeles for a feisty debate about illegal
immigration's effects on the African American community.
When Minister Tony
Muhammad of the Nation of Islam and others called for black-brown unity,
they drew boos and yells of dissent.
"Illegal immigration is wrong! They have no business being in this
country!" shouted one audience member, drawing thunderous applause.
But Hayes was nowhere near the podium. He sat in the church's back pew,
silent. He had not been invited to speak. In fact, he had been explicitly
rejected because panel organizers felt he lacked legitimacy, according to
one of them.
And therein lies a conundrum. As immigration becomes a red-hot issue in
the presidential campaign, it is stirring volatile sentiments among a
sizable number of blacks who believe illegal immigrants are threatening
their jobs, housing, healthcare and educational benefits. But no one has
been able to unite them and effectively push for their interests.
Certainly not Hayes. Since last year, the 56-year-old lean and lanky
activist has tried to rouse blacks against illegal immigration with fiery
appearances on national TV, protest marches, civil disobedience and
leadership of Choose Black America, an anti-illegal immigration
organization launched and financially supported by the Federation for
American Immigration Reform.
"Illegal immigration is the
greatest threat to blacks since slavery,"
Hayes declared at a recent Choose Black America meeting in Inglewood.
"Immigrants got our jobs, the hospitals, the schools. Black folks can't
So far, Hayes has failed to gain traction. His events go mostly
unattended. His organization has managed to recruit only about 50 members
nationwide. An Internet appeal to support his crusade netted only about
$500, at last count.
A huge misstep, said commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson, was Hayes'
decision to align himself with the Minuteman Project, an anti-illegal
immigration group viewed as extremist by many people, including blacks.
Founder Jim Gilchrist, who calls Hayes "spectacular," sharply disputes the
charge and said Minutemen are patriots of all races who do not engage in
The Minuteman taint continues to reverberate, however. It's one reason the
Community Call to Action and Accountability's executive committee rejected
Hayes as a panelist for its recent immigration forum, said member Greg
"When you align yourself with people who have been an anathema to civil
rights, people scratch their heads. They say, 'I may support your position
but I see you standing with people who I know ain't with me,' " Akili
The activist denounces all the charges and says he is no extremist.
At least one Latino activist, Nativo Lopez of the Mexican American
Political Assn., agrees.
Lopez said he has met with Hayes to discuss common concerns about
immigration's impact on blacks and U.S.-Mexico trade and labor policies.
Hayes proposed that the two men plan a joint march in support of civil
rights and economic justice for Mexicans in Mexico.
"He's not a racist," Lopez said. But the furor has badly damaged
him, and Hayes said it illustrates the vicious treatment blacks get when
they dare to criticize illegal immigration. Which is why, he added, few
black leaders publicly do.
On that point, many of his critics agree.
"In black neighborhoods, most of the folks I encounter are leery of
immigrants and most have negative perceptions of them, unfortunately,"
said Larry Aubry, columnist for the black-owned Los Angeles Sentinel and
an executive committee member of the action and accountability group.
"But black leadership throughout the community has been frankly derelict
in addressing this issue."
A recent Los Angeles Times-Bloomberg poll showed that more than
two-thirds of blacks nationwide said
that illegal immigration was an important problem.
About half supported a
pathway to citizenship for those who learn English, pay fines and have no
criminal record, compared with 60% of whites.
But more believed
illegal immigrants had a negative impact on their community than those who
viewed them positively. And
blacks generally supported harsher enforcement measures, such as
deportation and border security, than whites.
Such sentiments -- and a push from a friend -- helped propel Hayes to take
on the controversial issue last year.
Inglewood businessman James Spencer plied him with arguments, Hayes
said, that illegal immigrants were draining resources that could otherwise
help the homeless on skid row, most of whom are black men.
Hayes knew the issue
would jeopardize his homeless work, endanger his safety and strain ties
with Latino friends.
He chose to do it anyway, he said, because he could not avoid seeing a
link between illegal immigration and diminishing resources for struggling
"I thought, 'OK, I can suffer for this cause,' " Hayes said.
And he has.
When focused on homelessness, Hayes lived in relative comfort. A $330,000
budget of mostly state and federal grants supported Dome Village, enough
to hire a 10-member staff and pay Hayes a $30,000 annual salary as
The village, launched in 1993 when the Atlantic Richfield Corp. donated
$250,000 to buy 18 portable domed housing units, has sheltered about 500
people since its start, and offered them schooling, job training and other
The village was Hayes' most tangible success in a 23-year history of
homeless activism. A Georgia native personally seared by Jim Crow racism,
Hayes first came to Los Angeles in 1970 and says he found Jesus. He became
a born-again Christian and traveling minister, got married, moved to
Riverside in 1981 and suffered several business disasters in auto
detailing, break-dancing and roofing.
In 1984, Hayes said, God called him forth to a new cause: helping the
homeless. As he watched a televised report about Tent City, a two-week
gathering of homeless people in downtown Los Angeles at Christmastime, he
abruptly decided to join them.
After city officials shut down Tent City on Jan. 2, 1985, Hayes spent the
next eight years living on skid row and elsewhere on the streets. With
Dome Village, Hayes began receiving international news coverage, visits
from the likes of Britain's Prince Edward, help from a raft of community
volunteers and, for the first time in many years, a steady paycheck.
Now most of that is gone.
Last year, Dome Village shut its doors after losing its reduced-rate rent
and subsequently lost its federal funding. Hayes sold off the domes and,
with part of the proceeds, moved his operations to a $2,000-a-month
downtown loft. But the money is just about gone, and Hayes is in constant
fear of eviction. Today, he lives on monthly unemployment benefits of
$1,200, which he said are set to run out next month.
The "dominoes started falling," wife Arlene Hayes said, when news hit
in 2005 that Hayes had become a Republican. For whatever reason, his
Democratic landlord subsequently raised his rent by 700%, forcing Dome
Village to close.
Hayes, whose father was an Army sergeant and a World War II veteran, said
he liked President Bush's muscular Mideast foreign policy and supports the
Iraq War. Those positions have not endeared him in the largely Democratic
Then Hayes took up immigration, embraced the Minutemen and got slammed
Hayes makes no apologies for his positions. He does, however, voice
regrets about his confrontational style, which has alienated him from such
powerful black leaders as U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and City
Councilwoman Jan Perry -- neither of whom chose to publicly comment on
Asked to evaluate his effectiveness, Hayes is unflinchingly blunt.
"Horrible. A failure," he said. "I'm a liability to the cause, because I
seem to anger more people in power than make them allies." Organizations
he began with a flourish, including the Black Elephants Republican group
and the anti-illegal immigration Crispus Attucks Brigade, never grew
beyond a handful of members.
Choose Black America also has failed to take off -- one reason the
Federation for American Immigration Reform has not been entirely thrilled
with Hayes' leadership.
Hayes' penchant for confrontation and civil disobedience is not a tactic
the federation would use, said national director Susan Tully. "I'm not
sure he's the guy to take the organization where it wanted to go," she
Hayes said he would likely step down as acting director.
For now, he continues to meet regularly with the dozen or so Choose Black
America members in Spencer's Inglewood office. At one recent meeting,
initial discussion about immigration-related news quickly turned into
tirades about illegal immigrants -- their "slave labor" wages, their use
of housing and healthcare benefits, their appropriation of black civil
rights symbols for their cause.
But the outbursts
masked personal pain. Elzie Alexander, jobless and homeless, said he has
applied for dozens of jobs flipping burgers and cleaning hotels but has
been turned down each time because he can't speak Spanish. Spencer said
nearby hospitals have had to close, which he blames on too many uninsured
speaking up about their plight, the men say they are grateful to Hayes.
"He stood up to the plate when no one else did," Spencer said.