Black Media Stress Human Rights Struggle of Immigrants
April 07, 2006
By New America Media, News Report
Editor's Note: Most black newspapers and Web sites are opposing anti-immigrant proposals in Congress and stressing Black-Latino unity -- though some commentators grapple with questions of job loss and the changing demographics of black communities. Weston is the African American issues editor for New America Media.
SAN FRANCISCO -- The recent debate on immigration reform that has gripped Congress and caused an estimated 3 million people to take to the streets in late March has found resonance in the black press.
Over a dozen news organizations serving African Americans from across the country are closely watching the political blow-by-blow, the protests and the student-lead walkouts that have come in the wake of the immigration debate.
The overwhelming majority of the news reports, commentaries and analysis have stressed inter-ethnic unity in what many in the Black community have seen as a human rights struggle reminiscent of the civil rights movement. But the twin issues of jobs and changing neighborhood demographics lead some African Americans to grapple with the black community's stake in immigration reform and our collective position on the undocumented worker.
Writing for the Web site Black Commentator, Bruce Dixon in his essay "Are Some Human Beings Illegal?" took issue with a black Congressman from Georgia who introduced a bill that would go further than anything being mulled over on Capitol Hill. "Kasim Reed, a black DLC Georgia state legislator from Atlanta tried to out-do Republican viciousness when it came to proposing punitive measures against immigrants," Dixon wrote. "Reed authored a bill which would imprison anyone convicted of using a false ID to get a job for five years. Predictably, his proposal was embraced by leading white Georgia democrats. This is how Georgia's New Democrats hope to win white votes on the immigration issue."
Dixon pointed out the economic incentive employers have to pit workers against each other.
"When given a choice, employers always prefer a fearful, compliant work force with few or no rights to an aware one with enforceable rights. Just having [undocumented immigrants] around, even if an employer chooses not to hire them, effectively lowers everyone's wages," Dixon wrote.
Many publications focused on the throngs of people that flooded the streets in many cities around the country. The San Francisco Bayview ran a full-color picture of the massive rally in Los Angeles along with an on-the-scene report from writer Nunu Kidane titled, "A Sea Of People As Far As The Eye Could See: Blacks and immigrants call for unity!"
"More than a million people protested in Los Angeles Saturday -- the largest march in California history -- to protest the racist immigration bills in Congress," Kidane wrote. "Protesters were wearing sights that read, 'I am a Man/Woman‚' also in Spanish and Chinese along the lines of the 1968 Martin Luther King-led protest by the sanitation workers in Memphis."
Kidane has a unique perspective based on her ethnic background. "As an African immigrant who has a stake in both communities, I made an urgent appeal for blacks and immigrants to form a united front...to work strategically to oppose such policies and proactively propose progressive legislation."
Kidane also lamented the lack of participation by African-Americans in the protests. "On a day specifically called to 'connect African-American and immigrant struggles,'" she wrote, "attendance by blacks was less than favorable. There is a need for a strategic approach to establishing a broad-based movement that educates us all about ourselves and this call is made to both black and immigrant-led organizations."
The Dallas Examiner, The Black Voice News and the Wave Newspaper Group in Southern California highlighted the youth-led walkouts from local middle and high schools. The Examiner also offered the perspective of an African immigrant from the Dallas Area.
"Samni Akinmulero, president of the African Chamber of Commerce, opposes the felony phase of the immigration bill," wrote Gordon Jackson in an Examiner piece entitled "Youth unite in protests against immigration reform." The paper noted that although most African immigrants are here legally, the bill would still impact with the 150,000 native Africans living in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
The paper quoted Akinmulero as saying, "It's not only the Hispanics that are afraid, it's also Africans."
Jackson then wrote, "We are looking at the bill with conscious. When the proper time comes, we will let our opinion be known."
According to the Examiner, thousands of students walked out from Dallas high schools. The Black Voice News stated that close to a thousand Riverside and San Bernardino, Calif., students left school.
The Final Call -- the only national, weekly African-American newspaper -- quoted a Nation of Islam leader who suggested that the protests augur changing racial politics in America.
"Nation of Islam Western Regional Minister Tony Muhammad said that people are witnessing a day when the scriptures are being fulfilled and in which God intends to give the land back to the Original People," wrote various authors in a piece called "Un Pueblo Unido."
"The Bible speaks of a day when her (America's) borders will be overrun, and God's will not be frustrated."
The Final Call quoted Muhammad as saying, "White folks have turned us against each other and the mind of white supremacy is prevailing in us, because that's how our slave master has taught us."
The minister added that some blacks support the most restrictive of immigration proposals before Congress.
"This is a country built by immigrants," Muhammad said. "You're dealing with black people who are ill-informed on the policies and plight for justice for Latino people. But we need to get more familiar with their plight."
New America Media commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson acknowledges the trepidation many African-Americans feel over the issue of immigration in a piece called, "Why So Many Blacks Fear Immigration."
"In parts of the South and Southwest," Hutchinson states, illegal immigration has markedly reduced job opportunities for unskilled or marginally skilled young blacks."
But Hutchinson points to discrimination as a root cause of black job loss.
"Seventeen-year-old young blacks may or may not be blocked from some jobs because of illegal immigration. But they're just as likely to be shut out from those jobs because of discrimination," he wrote.