Â A BLACK PERSPECTIVE ON IMMIGRATION
A month ago, this column addressed the complex anti-undocumented issue. Since then, the debate has grown more contentious. Both the Los Angeles and City Council and County Board of Supervisors voted to boycott Arizona's new immigration law amidst raucous opposition. Even some Black leaders have come out in opposition to the new Arizona law but this highly contentious issue requires much more than politically correct knee-jerk responses. Immigration reform has not been sufficiently addressed by the Obama Administration and will not be resolved by combative political finger-pointing.
The central concern here is how Blacks respond to "illegal immigrants," they have always been prime targets of racial themselves. (In Los Angeles, the family of 19 year old Jamiel Shaw is understandably still grieving over his killing but seem to brand all undocumented persons as the enemy. This is counterproductive; Jamiel was murdered by a single illegal immigrant hoodlum. Painting all undocumented persons with the same broad brush aggravates an already volatile relationship between Blacks and Latinos and further complicates already emotionally charged immigration reform efforts. Why not target those with primary responsibility: Employers who hire the undocumented, Congress and the federal government. Their collective inaction on immigration reform has greatly exacerbated the situation.
Dr. Ron Daniels, president of the Institute World 21st Century, offers an illuminating Afrocentric view of immigration reform. His article, "Revisiting the Immigration Reform Debate: An African American Perspective," suggests that despite many African American leaders' politically correct, pro-human rights and civil rights response, large numbers of Blacks are vehemently opposed to granting legal status to the undocumented. Daniels is in favor of fair, equitable and just immigration reform and says, "We cannot accept the racial, ethnic or religious profiling of any group under any circumstances." He is totally opposed to the new Arizona law but feels that Black leaders tend to uncritically embrace a pro-legalization stance for the undocumented that does not take into account the serious concerns of many Blacks on this issue.
Moreover, he believes that in no small measure, some of the anti-immigration hysteria is rooted in the fear by some whites that their "cherished" way of life is slipping away in the face of the "browning of America." These historical and contemporary factors must be part of the consciousness of African descendents in formulating a position on immigration policy reform. They are understandably nervous about anything that threatens their fragile socioeconomic and political gains, particularly because vast numbers of Blacks are still left out. Daniels says to suggest that somehow, millions of undocumented people have no impact on the socioeconomic and political standing runs counter to what African Americans experience in their daily lives.
Theoretically/intellectually, Black leaders correctly assert that Blacks and Latinos are both being exploited by White employers. The problem is that Blacks are bearing the brunt of the exploitation as their longstanding dream of a quality is again deferred. This is not just an issue of Blacks being unwilling to pick cucumbers or tomatoes as migrant workers. In urban areas where Blacks have fought forever to gain an equitable place in the construction industry, Black construction workers see white employers undermine their aspirations by hiring/exploiting Latino labor. The real villain is the white employer, but the brunt of the victimization is being borne by Blacks.
Still, it is imperative that Blacks and Browns forge an accommodation to advance sensible immigration reform that is respectful of their mutual interests. This must include some reciprocity from Latino leaders and organizers. In the massive, predominantly Latino protest demonstrations, seldom, if ever, do you hear leaders calling for Temporary Protective Status for Haitians or referencing the need for amnesty and expanded immigration quotas for African and Caribbean people. Many Black leaders are fervently supporting immigration reform that will primarily, positively affect Latinos without insisting that Latinos include African and Caribbean people in the demand for immigration reform.
There must also be a discussion about joint efforts to end discrimination against people of African descent in the construction industry and other occupations, and agreement that Latinos will not discriminate against Blacks in enterprises they own.
With these provisos, African Americans can support a path to legalization for the undocumented. But, Blacks and Latinos must stand together in the struggle to create a more inclusive and just nation, grounded in an understanding and respect for mutual interests.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail