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Will African-Americans Be Used as a Wedge Against Immigration Reform?

Emil Photo Again Edited 61b7dabb61239

Tonight in New York City, the Lunar New Year meets Black History month as the Asian American Legal Defense Fund honors legendary Freedom Rider, civil rights activist and long-time Georgia Congressman John Lewis.

It’s one of those diversity moments we need to note whenever we can because it shows there really is a broad civil rights agenda out there.

In fact, Lewis, speaking at Modesto Junior College in California two weeks ago, made it clear that the issue, the movement has evolved. “It’s not just civil rights,” Lewis declared. “It’s human rights.”

We need to remember the diversity inherent in Lewis’ “come together” language, especially now when our individual competing interests politically can often seem on a collision course.

We’re seeing it now on the issue of immigration.

Surely, the Black-dominated civil rights establishment is behind the push for reform. But with President Obama winning the majority of the vote, there are some rumblings from the African-American community on whether the president spending political capital on immigration does anything at all for African-Americans.

A survey of Black talk radio around the country can find sentiments not much different from right-wing talk programs on the issue.

A recent news report cited Rev. Al Sharpton from his radio program summing up Black opinion on immigration:

“There [are] clearly different views in the African-American community around immigration,” Sharpton said. “Some have said they’re [illegal immigrants] taking our jobs; they dilute our strength. Others have said we’ve got to have rights for everybody, or we don’t have it for anybody, and this is not just a Latino issue because immigration laws cover the Caribbean, cover Africans, cover South Americans.”

Over the long weekend, more details of the White House’s vision were leaked to USA Today.

The draft begins to define the controversial “pathway to citizenship” to obtain a “green card.” Undocumented migrants would submit to a criminal background check, give biometric information and pay fees to qualify. If approved, applicants could stay in the U.S. for four years, work and leave the country for short periods of time. (Sound like a guest worker program?) After the four years, they could re-apply for an extension. But within the eight years, they could apply for a permanent visa if they learn English and pay any back taxes.

It’s not much different from what’s been discussed by the president in his State of the Union address, or by that bi-partisan group of senators led on the GOP side by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

Despite the draft sounding a lot like what Rubio has outlined in the past, Rubio’s initial response was puzzling at best.

He said such a draft would be “dead on arrival” in Congress. And that the White House draft would “make immigration worse.”

That drink of water Rubio took the other day in the GOP SOTUS response certainly wasn’t truth serum.

Still, I’m more concerned with how African-Americans react to the new details.

Are the time frames too short? Too long? Will the increased attention to the issue be seen as a slap to the African-American community?

It shouldn’t if we take our cue from Rep. John Lewis.

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