After months of a relative lull, immigration policy reform appears to be on the front burner again. With President Obama emphasizing it in his State of the Union Address and Speaker Boehner and the Republican Party leadership adopting Principles, the stage appears to be set for passage of legislation this year. President Obama is “moderately optimistic” that immigration reform will move forward in the coming months. Despite some uneasiness about this issue in Black America, civil rights, labor, faith and political leaders have correctly been among the foremost advocates for immigration reform. So, one would think that recent developments should be a cause for celebration. Well it may be for some but not for me.
In April of last year I penned an article entitled: Will Blacks Get Screwed By Immigration Policy Reform? As a proponent of reform, I wrote the article to emphasize the urgent need to ensure that the interests of people of African descent be protected in the effort to address a critical problem incorrectly identified as a “Latino” issue. I noted that under the guidance of Dr. Waldaba Stewart, Chairman of the Board of the Caribbean Resource Center at Medgar Evers College [Dr. Stewart is the foremost African American expert on immigration policy reform], the Pan African Unity Dialogue (PAUD) in New York spent two years developing a document which identifies key issues of concern to people of African descent and which offers concrete policy proposals. The document embraces comprehensive inclusive, just/equitable and non-discriminatory immigration reform. Put another way, PAUD favors immigration reform which does not “screw” people of African descent in the legislative adoption process.
Against this backdrop, the obvious question is how are the interests of people of African descent faring in this atmosphere of optimism about immigration reform. Regrettably, I am compelled to report that Blacks are getting screwed! Our interests are being violated with little or no visible, vocal, persistent outcry from Black leaders or advocates on this issue. The most blatant example is the gutting of the Diversity Visa Program which provided an opportunity for more than 25,000 continental Africans and Caribbean immigrants to enter the U.S. every year. Frankly, this Program was the absolute minimum our Democratic Party and Latino “allies” should have fought to preserve to ensure the equitable inclusion of people of African descent in immigration reform legislation. But, the Senate bill that was passed some months ago “sacrificed” the Diversity Visa Program with vague assurances that other ways would be found to achieve its goals. There is no indication that I am aware of that the Republican Principles or proposals from the Democrats in the House restore the essence of the Diversity Visa Program.
In a recent conversation with one of Black America’s most prominent Civil Rights leaders, frustration was expressed over the unwillingness of Democratic Party and Latino leaders to fight for the Diversity Visa Program and other measures that would protect the interests of people of African descent. For example, Dr. Waldaba Stewart has warned that care should be taken to protect the interests of Black farmers in the adoption of a Guest Worker Program. He has also suggested that a non-discrimination clause be incorporated into any proposed legislation to make certain that economic benefits do not accrue to some groups while Blacks are left out. A number of Black immigration advocates have demanded provisions that will remedy the disproportionate deportation of people of African descent to the Caribbean – which has had an adverse impact on many nations in this region.
Privately there appears to be significant discontent with the Senate bill and with proposals percolating in the House. Word is that some members of the Congressional Black Caucus are threatening to vote against any bill that does not include the equivalent of a Diversity Visa Program. The problem is that the discontent is private and quiet. People of African descent are getting screwed and the vast majority of Black people have no knowledge that our interests are being trampled as the process of passing immigration reform proceeds.
Why are Blacks being screwed in this process with little or no protest or visible display of opposition? It is primarily because of concerns that if Black leaders and advocates become too vocal it will undermine prospects for adoption of comprehensive reform and alienate our Latino allies. These are legitimate concerns, but the question remains should the sons and daughters of formerly enslaved Africans in America remain silent when our interests are being neglected or sacrificed. The answer should be obvious; within a pluralistic society, groups engage the political process to promote and protect their interests. In fact a clear argument can be made that the Republic Party’s movement on this issue has little to do with “principles.” It’s about their “political interest.” More and more Republicans realize that, like it or not, the Party risks political oblivion unless it can attract more Latino voters. And, it cannot do this while being opposed to immigration reform.
Unlike the Republicans, Black leaders have taken a principled stand that promoting immigration reform is the correct thing to do, and I agree with this position. Africans in America have been in the forefront of promoting and protecting the interests of any group experiencing oppression. That’s part of our tradition as the conscience of this nation. This is why we have every reason to expect the political Party to which we continue to overwhelmingly deliver our vote and allies whom we have supported to reciprocate by vigorously promoting and protecting our interests. And, when they fail to do so, we are not obligated to be quiet. Indeed, we are obligated to break silence and declare to Black America, the nation and the world that the interests of the sons and daughters of Africa in America are being violated. So it must be with immigration policy reform. It’s time to break the silence, to gather ourselves, to end the grumbling in private and speak with a loud, determined and coordinated voice that Blacks are being screwed by immigration policy reform, and it is unacceptable!
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].