THE young black man hesitated as he stood outside the small furniture manufacturing shop in South Los Angeles. He was dressed neatly, and he was well-groomed. He eyed the building warily. The sign on the narrow glass door in English and Spanish, read “help wanted” and “trabajo aqui.” The opening was for a shop helper, mostly to sweep up and do routine cleanup and maintenance. It did not require any education or special skills. It paid minimum wage, as did the thousands of shops that dotted the area. There was no employee health-care plan or other benefits. After a moment, he went in and politely asked for an application. The petite receptionist, a young Latina, handed him an application form, with an airy nonchalance. She curtly suggested that he fill it out and bring it back. When he asked if there would be an interview, she haltingly said, only if there was a position open. The young man looked perplexed, glanced at the help-wanted sign, politely thanked her and left. A couple of hours later, two other young Latinos came in to apply. One was immediately hired. The other was told that another helper job might open up within the next few days. The workers in the shop as in nearly all the other shops in the area were Latinos, a large percentage of whom were illegal immigrants. There were no other blacks, whites, or even English-speaking native-born Latino workers in the plant or few other shops in the area. This is not a fictional story. I personally witnessed the scene at the company involving the black job seeker. Anti-illegal immigration activists say the experience of the young black job-seeker has played out thousands of times at restaurants, in hotels, on farms and at manufacturing plants nationally, and this is a major reason so many young black males are unemployed, join gangs, deal drugs and pack America’s jails. When Congress hammers out a comprehensive immigration reform law, it still won’t answer the question if the estimated 10 million to 12 million illegal immigrants in the country take jobs from American citizens, especially the bottom- rung American workers, the young, the poor, and more often than not, African-American workers. What if, though, the young black job-seeker or any other American looking for work in a low-end manufacturing plant or a restaurant in Los Angeles were offered that job, which probably pays minimum wage and doesn’t offer any benefits or job security. Would he take it? Maybe yes, maybe no. The reams of studies on the impact of illegal immigration on American jobs give conflicting, confusing and flat-out contradictory answers. They are eagerly seized on by anti- and pro-illegal immigration advocates to make a case for their side. But it’s certainly hard to imagine that a young black from South Los Angeles not to mention a native-born young white or Latino from Van Nuys or Woodland Hills going out to the fields to pick strawberries for 10 to 12 hours a day in the hot sun, at minimum or even sub-minimum wages. Or that they’d take a job at a carwash or bus dishes in a restaurant. But what if the farm contractors, carwash owners and manufacturers paid a living wage and provided benefits? It might be a different story, at least for some young people in Los Angeles. Then there’s the regional factor. There is some evidence that young American workers will work jobs in the South and the Midwest jobs that have long been designated as jobs that only illegal immigrants will work that is, if those jobs were offered to them. But when employers give the quick brushoff to young blacks and other young American workers that are willing to take lower-end jobs, they send the not-so-subtle message that these workers are not wanted or welcome. This is a powerful disincentive to pursue work in these taboo areas of the job market. The end result is that an entire category of jobs at the bottom rung of American industry is clearly marked as “Latino only.” The debate over whether illegal immigrants hurt young poor, unskilled American workers is not confined to low-end jobs. A decade ago, the only Latino on the U.S. Postal Service’s Board of Governors ignited a mild spark of protest when he charged that blacks were over-represented in the post office. He cited a Government Accounting Office report on the numbers of blacks in the L.A. post office and aggressively called for more Latinos to be hired to correct the imbalance. His call for more Latinos, and presumably fewer blacks, was tantamount to a call for the service to tilt its hiring practices toward Latinos. That touched a raw nerve with many blacks. It came on the heels of a GAO study that found fewer and fewer blacks were getting jobs as janitors in L.A. The jobs are now being taken by foreign-born workers, many of them illegal immigrants. This reinforced black fears that they were losing even more economic ground, this time not to whites but to Latinos, many of whom were illegal immigrants. The fear in this case was justified. Still, the young black in Los Angeles and other cities who illegal-immigration opponents cite as proof that illegal immigration is ruinous for the economy and the urban poor may or may not have lost out in his job hunt to an illegal immigrant. He might also have lost out because of discrimination, poor education, government budget slashes and the flight of manufacturers to other countries. Nonetheless, government still must ensure that American workers have the right and opportunity to work in any and all industries. That would do much to calm the fury of many Americans who worry that illegal immigration sledgehammers at least some American workers. Congress and the Bush administration must not ignore that worry. Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a political analyst, social issues commentator and frequent contributor to the Daily News. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREOregon Ducks football players get stuck on Disney ride during Rose Bowl event160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!