MLB Manipulates Immigration Laws

MLB Manipulates Immigration Laws


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



 Congress, which already grants to MLB exemption from all anti-trust legislation, passed

 the “Creating Opportunities For Minor League Professionals, Entertainers and Teams

Through Legal Entry Act of 2006.” This change in the immigration law, passed by

Congress after heavy lobbying of the legislators and the State Dept. by MLB, now allows

foreign born minor league players to upgrade from H-2B visas to P-1 Visas, which until

last year had been restricted just to major league players.



Baseball: A Job African Americans Won’t Do?

By Jean Damu


Jackie Robinson must be weeping.

Earlier this season nationwide festivities were held to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s integration of Major League Baseball. By and large the events left a sour taste because it was impossible to ignore the obvious: African- Americans are becoming an extinct species in MLB.

Even though a variety of reasons have been offered up to explain this phenomena-from Black kids playing to many video games, to the exorbitant costs of Little League participation-close inspection reveals the fundamental reason Black American youth are disappearing from the MLB diamonds is that congress is greasing the skids by manipulating immigration laws that now allow massive numbers of lowly paid overseas apprentice (minor league, developmental) players to legally flow into the US.

Ironically the practice of going overseas, specifically to the Dominican Republic for apprentice baseball players, was necessitated by the onset of baseball’s free agency agreement that ushered in skyrocketing salaries. This encouraged teams in smaller, less lucrative markets to find ways to cut player development costs, costs which can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars per player.

No team was more aggressive or more successful in recruiting lowly paid apprentice baseball players in the Dominican Republic than the Oakland A’s, a perennial baseball success story that resides in what is considered one of MLB’s smallest, least lucrative markets.

In a 1997 Sacramento Bee story Ron Plaza , who was then a roving instructor for the A’s said, “When we first went to the Dominican Republic in the 1980’s, we signed a lot of guys because we wanted to have our own squad because we didn’t want to co-op with another team. A lot of mistakes were made and we weren’t sending the caliber of player (that was going to be successful.) It was unfortunate.”

In reality, however, it didn’t really matter whether the players made it to the major leagues or not.  Despite what they had been told by the major league baseball scouts most of the Dominicans are brought here to help train those who will make it to the big leagues.

Dick Balderson of the Colorado Rockies described the Dominican recruiting strategy as the “boatload” mentality.” Instead of signing four (American) guys at $25,000 each, you sign 20 Dominican guys at $5,000 each,” he said. Balderson is currently VP in charge of baseball operations for the Rockies.

Defending this strategy, Sandy Alderson who was then the longtime general manager of the A’s and is now general manager of the San Diego Padre’s said, “It’s a reaction to the cost of player development in the US. Part of that cost relates to the escalation of free agent salaries and increases in signing bonuses at the amateur level.

“If you are developing two or three players from traditional domestic sources and you can add just one player to that resource pool every year, then in effect you’ve increased your productivity,” Alderson said.

But that was ten years ago and the ruling class of MLB, the owners, decided that the immigration laws, which limited each team to 26 visas per year was too limiting.

In a little unnoticed move last year Congress, which already grants to MLB exemption from all anti-trust legislation, passed the “Creating Opportunities For Minor League Professionals, Entertainers and Teams Through Legal Entry Act of 2006.” This change in the immigration law, passed by Congress after heavy lobbying of the legislators and the State Dept. by MLB, now allows foreign born minor league players to upgrade from H-2B visas to P-1 Visas, which until last year had been restricted just to major league players.

Under the H-2B visa program, to which most industries must conform, each team was only allowed 26 visas per year. By upgrading minor league players to P-1 visas each team may now annually import an unlimited number of minor league players. This despite the fact that immigration laws specifically state these requirements may not be implemented unless no Americans can be found who will perform the job.It should be easy enough to see the meaning of all this—that within a few years organizations like the Milwaukee Brewers, who have not one African American on their roster, will become the norm, rather than an anomaly. 

Baseball offers a clear and true allegory of the negative effects of globalization upon the weakest sectors of society. African American youth are the first to be discarded by baseball. Others will be discarded later. In February of this year the New York Yankees and MLB sent a delegation to the People’s Republic of China to contract with Chinese Baseball Assn. to provide equipment and training. A similar delegation from the Mets traveled to West Africa in MLB’s apparent drive to develop other, cheaper sources of labor.

Questions abound. In 20 years will Dominicans also be discarded as too expensive? Will white players become as expendable as Detroit autoworkers? What does the baseball players union have to say about this? As the most militant of all the professional sports unions will it react at some point to the globalization of its industry?  Stay tuned.

Jean Damu is a former member of the International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, taught Black Studies at the University of New Mexico, has traveled and written extensively in Cuba and Africa and currently serves as a member of the Steering Committee of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. Email him at

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Immigrants, Minorities and Race Relations

A Bibliography of Theses and Dissertations

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By Victor F. Gilbert and Darshan Singh Tatla 

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People’s History of Sports in the United States

 250 Years of Politics, Protest, People, and Play

By Dave Zirin

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update 2June 2012




Home   Satchel Paige Sports   Jean Damu

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