Sunday, February 14, 2010

Immigration and African Americans

One Future: The Shared Economic, Political Plight of African Americans and Afro-Immigrants

Immigration Reform. It's an issue that evokes social, emotional, and economic unease in communities across the nation. It's an issue that conjures up a new kind of scape-goating, even unapologetic racism--pitting community against community, neighbor against neighbor, and worker against worker.
Haiti's catastrophic earthquake should remind all of us that it's these kinds of tragic circumstances that move immigrants to seek hope and refuge in America. This tragedy should also remind us of the unique circumstances facing Afro- immigrants--too often overlooked in today's immigration debate.
For years, Haitians and other Afro-immigrants from Latin America, Africa, and the Caribbean, have sought and will continue to seek refuge from civil war, political and religious prosecution, and social and economic injustice.
African Americans should be especially mindful of the mistruths and divisiveness that anti-immigration advocates will use to block any type of immigration reform that would actually help uplift our communities.

We know the immigration reform debate comes at a sensitive time. People are being squeezed in a crippling economy. The unemployment rate for African Americans is projected to reach a 25-year high this year--17.2 percent nationally and rates exceeding 20 percent in five states.
At such a critical moment in our nation's economic recovery, however, we cannot afford to be politically divided from our immigrant brothers and sisters. We have to work together to secure a stronger economic future for our own prosperity, better jobs, fair wages, and ultimately, better futures for our families.
Right now, anti-immigration activists are gearing up to fight comprehensive immigration reform. They'll offer false arguments about the impacts immigrants have on our communities. They'll bait us intomisplaced anxiety over job loss, diluted political clout, overburdened social services and unexpected tax burdens. They'll convince us all that immigrants are the enemy--distracting us from the real problems of economic injustice, erosion of our labor laws, and growing disparities in education and health.
What anti-immigrant naysayers won't do is tell you that the current immigration system-- which hasn't seen major, comprehensive reform since the Immigration Act of 1965 -- is dysfunctional and out of line with today's social and economic realities.
As Americans, we must understand that today's broken immigration system is filled with unjust laws that hurt everyone.
Recently in Minnesota, African Americans and their African immigrant co-workers, charged the American Building Maintenance (ABM) Janitorial Services, the largest janitorial contractor in the Twin Cities, with racially discriminatory hiring and pay practices. The workers alleged the company pays them close to $3 less per hour than their co-workers.
In Arizona last week, sixty black leaders from twenty-three states signed a statement that ran as a newspaper ad against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's efforts to spread anti-immigrant bigotry, intimidation, and harassment--regardless of nationality and ethnicity. The "Arizona Republic" ad compared Sheriff Arpaio to the infamous 1960s Birmingham public safety commissioner Theophilus Eugene "Bull" Connor and calls Arpaio "the symbol of a broken immigration enforcement system fueled by bigotry."
It's these kinds of acts that summon us to change the world. And so it is with immigration reform.
Now is the time to tackle immigration reform with common-sense solutions that will ultimately help us address social and economic disparities and increase our ability to build collective political and economic strength together.
Passing comprehensive immigration reform means protecting people from bad laws; improving working conditions for all workers; stabilizing local economies, and holding big businesses accountable for illegal labor practices that exploit workers. It also means offering opportunities to Afro immigrants seeking hope and refuge in America from tragedy abroad.
Our elected officials in Washington--including the nine Congressional Black Caucus members who did not co-sign "Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security Act and Prosperity" (CIR A.S.A.P.) recently introduced by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.)-- must demonstrate that they recognize the impact of comprehensive immigration reform on African Americans and Afro immigrants.
Let's remember that immigrants come here to better fulfill hopes and dreams and like most of us, for their children and their families. Let's remember that we are part of a nation that unites and reaffirms the American Dream. Let's remember our history and our duty as Americans to be fair and just.
Let's tell Congress to support Comprehensive Immigration Reform now. 
Gerry Hudson serves as international executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Hudson leads the work of the union's Long Term Care Division, which represents nearly 500,000 nursing home and home care workers nationwide. He is renowned for his work on environmental justice, and he continues to lead SEIU's efforts to win quality, affordable healthcare for all, immigration reform, and other major initiatives by strengthening the union's partnerships and alliances with community groups.

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