LOS ANGELES — Immigrant rights leaders have repeatedly and with great pride compared the movement for humane immigration reform to the great civil rights battles of the 1960s. They have cited the Poor Peoples March in 1968, the high esteem that Cesar Chavez held for Dr. Martin Luther King, and the unequivocal support that top civil rights leaders and the Congressional Black Caucus has given to immigrant rights as solid models of black and brown cooperation. Yet, despite these public pronouncements, there has been no sustained movement to build any real coalitions with blacks on the immigration issue.
That has led to confusion and even anger. California Legislative Black Caucus Chair Assemblyman Mervyn M. Dymally came out in support of humane immigration reform. Dymally, who is was born in Trinidad and became the first foreign-born black member of Congress, in a statement on his Web site said that, “While I have not participated in any of the demonstrations because I was never invited by the organizers to do so, Assemblymember Joe Coto, vice-chair of the California Legislative Latino Caucus knows of my support for the demonstrations.”
While a Field Poll in California found that blacks—by a bigger percentage than whites and even American-born Latinos—back ed liberal immigration reform measures, little has been done on the side of immigrant rights groups to work with blacks on issues that both groups have in common.
Immigrant rights leaders have been MIA at rallies and gatherings on issues that blacks find important, including renewal of certain parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that are due to expire in 2007, police misconduct, improving failing inner city public schools, and most important the astronomical crisis of black joblessness among young blacks. That’s particularly important because most blacks perceive that illegal immigrants take jobs away from blacks.
The NAACP’s mission statement reads: “The mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is to ensure the politica l, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.” But unlike the NAACP, the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), which has been a major backer of the immigrant rights protests, has not spoken out continually and relentlessly for black rights issues. Its mission statement reads: “The Mexican American Political Association, founded in Fresno, California in 1960, has been, and is, dedicated to the constitutional and demo cratic principle of political freedom and representation for the Mexican and Hispanic people of the United States of America.” There is no mention of blacks, poor whites or even other immigrant groups, just Latinos.
This lack of an interracial message in the fight for civil rights has been heard loud and clear by blacks in America.
When black members of the Minutemen Project held a protest in a predominantly black neighborhood in Los Angeles, immigrant activist and MAPA president Nativo Lopez said that he believes they are out of step with most black leaders and that both blacks and Hispanics face the same problems.
While many blacks denounce the Minutemen, blacks, especially in Los Angeles, are not completely supportive of illegal immigrants.
With the exception of a few black leaders, blacks in general have not come out in support of illegal immigrant rights, but many have gathered opposing illegal immigration.
While the Spanish language continues to be a huge divide in communication between blacks and Latinos, black-brown relations will continue to be strained as long as blacks are the only ones reaching out to Latinos to build coalitions.
Latinos who want to change the mindset of blacks on illegal immigrants’ rights must make a visible and concer ted effort to reach out to blacks—not just on immigrant rights issues, but on issues that are important to blacks as well. Just as they vigorously pound on Congress, the Bush administration, employers and the American people to make jobs and justice the w atchwords for dispossessed immigrants, they must make jobs and justice the watchwords for dispossessed poor blacks too. That is the right and indeed the only way to build a firm and lasting relationship between blacks and immigrant rights groups.
Jasmyne A. Cannick writes political and social commentary and is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists. Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black (Middle Passage Press). The Hutchinson Report blog is now online at E arlOfari Hutchinson.com.›