As the "Gang of Eight" Senators in the U.S. Congress prepare to outline their proposals for comprehensive immigration reform, there is alarm in some quarters of the Black Diaspora that the legislation they put forth may harm the interests of people of African descent. We cannot stand by and let this happen. In the Declaration of Intent to Heal Black Families and Communities, the Action Agenda for State of the Black World Conference III, we state: "IBW favors just and equitable immigration reforms which respect the interests of people of African descent. We do not view it as a 'Kum ba yah' exercise but a matter of critical importance to the interests and aspirations of people of African descent in a pluralistic society."
Because people of Latin/Hispanic origin constitute the overwhelming majority of the estimated 11 million undocumented residents in the U.S., immigration reform has largely been viewed as a "Latino issue." While African Americans and other people of African descent have always been in the forefront advocating for the civil and human rights of others, in this instance, it is crucial that all parties in the immigration policy reform effort recognize that the Black Diaspora has a major stake in this issue. Indeed, despite the solid support for immigration reform among Black leaders, there are misgivings on the ground in Black communities because of real or perceived concerns that the interests of people of African descent will be excluded from reform legislation. Simply stated, Black people want assurances that undocumented people of African descent from Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South America will not be discriminated against in the formulation of legislation. Programs to facilitate the incorporation of the undocumented into this country must be available to all, irrespective of ethnicity or nationality. Equally important, there is a concern that people of African descent have the same right to immigrate to the U.S. as other groups — that is say there should be no favoritism granted to any group based on race, ethnicity or categories tied to "education" and "skill."
To address these concerns, the Pan African Unity Dialogue (PAUD) of New York, an umbrella group convened by the Institute of the Black World 21st Century that promotes collaboration between Caribbean Americans, Afro-Latinos, Continental Africans and African Americans, has thoroughly explored this issue and developed an Immigration Reform Call to Action [see website www.ibw21.org]. Under the leadership of Dr. Waldaba Stewart, Chairman of the Board of the Caribbean Research Center at Medgar Evers College, a number of issues were flagged within various policy proposals which were detrimental to Black interests. Accordingly, the PAUD document identifies these issues and offers recommendations for resolving them in a way that protects the interests of people of African descent as part of the overall quest to achieve immigration policy reform — reform that people of African descent can enthusiastically support because our interests are included.
Representatives of the PAUD Immigration Task Force recently traveled to Washington to conduct a Black press briefing and consult with Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, Co-Chairperson of the Congressional Black Caucus Afri-Centric Task Force on Immigration, and Hilary Shelton, Vice-President for Public Policy and Advocacy for the NAACP. During these meetings, we were informed that Senator Charles Schumer of New York, a key player in the Gang of Eight, was prepared to yield to a demand from the Republicans to eliminate the Diversity Visa Program and replace it with a STEM Visa Program, ostensibly to incentivize the immigration of skilled workers and professionals to this country. The problem is that 48% of the 55,000 Diversity Visas granted annually are to people from nations in Africa and the Caribbean. Eliminating this Program would severely stem the flow of legal immigration to the U.S. by people of African descent. Congresswoman Clarke and Hilary Shelton indicated that this was totally unacceptable and would fight to see that this egregious act does not happen.
March 20th, under the leadership of Bishop Orlando Findlayter, hundreds of reform advocates from Churches United to Save and Heal (CUSH) and the Black Immigration Network (BIN) also traveled to Washington to call for just, equitable, inclusive and non-discriminatory immigration legislation. But, apparently the appeals of PAUD, CUSH and BIN have fallen on deaf ears in Washington. The word circulating as of this writing is that the Diversity Visa Program will be sacrificed in a compromise calculated to please the Republicans. Thus far some quiet protests may be occurring, but there appears to be no visible and vocal opposition by Black leadership. Perhaps, this is because of a reluctance to "rock the boat" in terms of relations with our Latino allies. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." We cannot allow people of African descent to be screwed by "well meaning" immigration policy reform!
Coalitions and alliances are based on mutual interest and reciprocity. Therefore, people of African descent cannot allow their interests to be ignored in deference to anyone. Accordingly, it is imperative that Black political, faith, civil rights and human rights leaders mount a visible and vocal campaign to salvage the Diversity Visa Program. Indeed, what is really required is for the Congressional Black Caucus to draft legislation that reflects and protects the interests of people of African descent and inject it into the legislative process as a bargaining tool. A clause indicating that the provisions of any legislation adopted will be equitable and non-discriminatory is essential to provide a basis for legal action once reforms are enacted. Far from antagonizing our friends/allies, respect for our interests dictates that Latinos, Asians and others join a righteous effort to preserve the Diversity Visa Program and similar measures that we declare to be vital to our interests as people of African descent.
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com . To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, Dr. Daniels can be reached via email at [email protected].