OUR nation's immigration policies are strangling employment opportunity in the black community, hope increasingly stamped out by the constant waves of competition from legal and illegal immigrants. The new civil right for blacks must be the right to a job.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, America's population has increased by 59 million since 1990 (not including illegal immigrants), mostly due to immigration and high birth rates among Hispanics. Indeed, Latin America alone has sent 45.5 million immigrants to the U.S. to resettle since 1990, with 25 million from Mexico. This infusion has shifted the balance of employment supply and demand, as an increasing number of people vie for the same jobs.

Today, black unemployment is 15.5 percent - nearly seven points higher than the national average. For blacks ages 16-24, that figure jumps to 23.3 percent.

Regions of our country where blacks should have been able to find a job are today dominated by Hispanics. For example, the labor force in Las Vegas is 22 percent Hispanic and 10 percent black. In Los Angeles, it is 43 percent Hispanic and only 6 percent black. In Texas this figure is 35 percent Hispanic and 10 percent black. Blacks are being forced to compete head-on with a rising tide of people flooding across the borders.

The first order of business should be to manage our immigration system, which vastly increases labor supply versus demand. Blacks are most likely to be displaced by the tsunami of lower-skilled illegal workers. In 1992, the gap between white and black unemployment was 4.5 percentage points. Today it stands at 7.9 points. This unemployment gap also creates a wealth gap, with blacks continuously having to play catch-up.

There are those who believe that high rates of unemployment in the black community are the fault of blacks - and that immigrants are only taking the jobs that blacks don't want. The overwhelming data and common sense suggest that this is not true. After all, those same jobs (janitorial, construction, hotel, restaurant, etc.) were also around in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, when America was the world's strongest power. Black Americans are not refusing to work. They need a level playing field.

The numbers lead to two mutually reinforcing truths about America that get lost in the verbal insults and legal battles over our country's broken immigration system. First, black unemployment and immigration are directly linked. Second, the immigration problem in the U.S. is irrefutably a result of the lack of good governance south of our border. America's failed immigration system is the flip side of a failed foreign policy. We can address black unemployment by fixing immigration through a new narrative.

There is no doubt that the Mexican government has exported its crisis to the United States by failing to provide a decent standard of living for its citizens, driving them north in search of a better future. Since America has not insisted on good governance in Mexico, we are a party to this unacceptable process. Meanwhile, our already broken economic system needs to produce more jobs, protect more of the vulnerable and build more schools, roads and bridges to accommodate the surge.

The solution requires a multipronged approach. First, Congress must institute a five-year moratorium on immigration into the U.S. (except for refugees - about 60,000 people per year). During this period, three initiatives must take place to make it attractive for immigrants, be they legal or illegal, to voluntarily return to their home countries:

* A country-specific micro-loan program should be established for those who need startup capital to open a business back in their home country.

* Then the U.S. must decouple its trade from China and use public and private partnerships to establish manufacturing outlets south of our border. A case in point: Last year the U.S. imported $8 billion worth of toys from China. Imagine if this money were redirected to countries like Mexico, El Salvador or Peru.

* Furthermore, the DREAM Act must be ratified at the federal level but with a caveat: Once an illegal student obtains his or her degree from a university, armed with that degree they must return to their home country and help rebuild it.

Immigration solutions will open up new employment opportunities. Then we must address the ways in which blacks can fill those jobs. Businesses should be encouraged to hire blacks.

We must act as a nation to address the injustices within our country and outside our borders.