By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
As lawmakers and special interests groups paint immigration reform as a critical component in shaping the future of Latinos living in the United States, Black leaders say that there is too much at stake, economically and politically, for Blacks to allow the debate to be framed in narrow terms.
Despite many reports, the pathway to citizenship for undocumented individuals is just one ingredient in the multi-layered immigration policy, yet to be written, that will have far-reaching impacts for Blacks and African descendants in the United States and abroad.
“This is a very controversial issue on the ground in the Black community,” said Ron Daniels, president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, an organization that works to advance the social, political economic growth of the Black community in the United States and around the world. “If you hear the leaders talk about [immigration reform], it sounds like everything is hunky-dory and it’s all kumbaya.”
According to Daniels, everything isn’t hunky-dory and Blacks aren’t singing old feel-good songs. He hears the grumbling voices opposing immigration and the misconception that “illegals” flood the job market crowding out American-born workers, driving down wages and contributing to high rates of unemployment, nationally and in the Black community.
It’s not just disgruntled, out-of-work Blacks that feel that way.
According to a recent Angus Reid Public Opinion poll, more than half of Americans oppose immigration and say that illegal immigrants “take jobs from American workers.” Thirty-nine percent said that the number legal immigrants should be decreased.
The Labor Department reported that the national unemployment rate was 7.7 percent and the Black unemployment rate was 13.8 percent in February. The jobless rate was 6.8 percent for Whites and 9.6 percent for Latino workers over the same period.
According to Daniels, opposition to immigration and the misconception that immigrants are to blame for depressing wages and taking jobs could hinder progress and support for any immigration bill that is crafted by Congress.
Daniels and the Institute partnered with a number of groups from the African diaspora to form the Pan- African Unity Dialogue to develop an immigration agenda tailored to meet the needs of Black Americans and Blacks of African descent in the U.S. and abroad.
“Immigration affects us all, immigration is local, national and international,” said Waldaba Stewart, economic advisor for Southern Caucus of Non-Governmental Organizations for Sustainable Development. “Immigration involves economics and political power.”
Stewart said that right now Blacks and African descendants are not being considered and it’s the fault of the Black leadership for not explaining the significance of the legislation.
“That was our fault,” said Stewart. “We as a people acted as if immigration was someone else’s concern.”
The group said that any immigration reform needs to address a number of key issues important to the economic and political future of Blacks and people of African descent that reside in the United States.
The group wants the U.S. Commerce and Agriculture departments to foster partnerships between Blacks in the United States and Blacks in the countries where the federal government is already working to advance it’s own interests in agriculture.
The group said that all legislation for immigration reform must include provisions that “are applicable to Blacks and other groups that are historically victims of racism.”
Companies and organizations that utilize the special visa and guest worker programs must make those same opportunities available to Blacks and documented workers before new permits are granted, stated the group. The group also wants to make sure that the immigration process provides equitable allocation of visas to Sub Saharan African countries, to the Caribbean and to countries in Latin America that are underrepresented.
Experts say that both the powerful business lobby and labor groups want to change the way the guest worker program works. Business owners want more visas and a streamlined process, while unions want more control over the number of special visas that are allocated during tough economic times.
Utilizing the special visas, companies import foreign workers to perform housekeeping, landscaping, food processing and other low-wage jobs that they claim that Americans no longer want. PAUD said that the government needs to apply more pressure on those companies to pay a living wage and hire American workers.
The group also asserted that the immigration process should provide equitable allocation of visa quotas to Sub Saharan African countries, to the Caribbean and to countries in Latin America that have a disparity in processing visa applications by people of African descent.
Daniels and the PAUD group also want provisions included in the immigration bill that will protect the interests of Black farmers in the United States and around the world. Stewart said that because of globalization and discrimination in the industry, Black farmers who once controlled a quarter of agriculture industry in the U.S. now only make up about 7 percent.
Although Daniels said that he looks forward to working with leading Latino and Asian groups to address immigration reform, it was important for Blacks and African descendants to develop their own agenda first, so that all parties can benefit from a future coalition.
Latino interest groups are greatly concerned with any pathway to citizenship language that will ultimately go into the final bill.
According to 2009 Pew Research study, Hispanics account for 76 percent of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, including 7 million from Mexico alone. If those immigrants became legal citizens, the nation could see a dramatic shift in economic and political power.
Daniels acknowledged that the road ahead isn’t going to be easy and that educating the Black community about immigration reform will be important in gaining their support, but it’s something that must be done.
“The worst thing that we can do is to not have this conversation or have this struggle because the power elites, the business community will end up pitting, the different groups against each other,” said Daniels. “But to act as if there are no consequences, politically or economically, would be disastrous.”