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Why Blacks should support immigration reform

By Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr./NNPA Columnist
On December 8, 2014

Latinos share the same issues with Blacks on racial equality and economic empowerment and need our support.
Credit: Pete Souza/White House

As I watched President Barack Obama address the nation on his “controversial” Executive Order on immigration reform, I was reminded of the evening of April 4, 1967. I was inside Riverside Church in New York City when the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his courageous sermon in opposition to the Vietnam War. Even some of his supporters questioned his theological audacity to link civil rights injustice in the United States to human rights injustice in Vietnam.

Decades later, history has proven King to have been right in his opposition. What will history say 50 years from now about President Obama’s leadership on immigration and his determination to fix the system?

Leadership is about speaking out against injustice. It is also about taking action to correct injustice. Civil rights leadership, as exemplified by King, was audacious with the courage to take action to challenge injustice in a manner that inspired millions of people to join the cause. In his Riverside Church speech, King stated, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I know that there are many in the Black community who might not understand how the issue of immigration for Latino Americans and others is linked to our issues of racial and economic justice. The goals of racial equality and economic empowerment are not exclusive or limited to Black Americans. With the “browning” of America steadily changing the racial and ethnic demographics of the population of the U.S., it important for Black Americans to be supportive of immigration reform.

We should be in solidarity with our Latino sisters and brothers because it is the moral and right thing to do. Also, supporting immigration fairness and equal justice is a strategic step forward for Black America. We know what the sting and pain of racial prejudice and injustice feels like.

The political context and timing of President Obama’s executive action that will help possibly 5 million or more Latino and other undocumented people who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years should not be underestimated. This was a major leadership move by the nation’s first Black president. Like health care reform, immigration reform had been debated for decades without any significant progress until Obama made it happen.

Yes, there is going to be a big political fight over immigration. Black Americans should weigh in on this debate from an activist perspective rather than from the position of disinterested spectators. As President Obama affirmed, “What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal, that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will.”

Equality in a democracy where people are treated fairly and justly, is a moral and noble goal that we should all strive to attain. Yet, for 45 million Black Americans, we also know the bitter taste of centuries of oppression, discrimination, injustice, violence and racial hatred. In fact, it is because of our ongoing struggle for freedom, justice and equality that we cannot afford to be silent on the issue of immigration equal justice. 

I am prepared to stand with the president of the United States on this matter. Are you?

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