|Black voices muted in immigration debate|
|Polls suggest deep convictions, but they’re low-profile|
|Published Thursday, August 5, 2010 8:32 am|
Enrique Nassar was 28 years old when he left Honduras for a chance at the American dream.
|A girl holds a sign at a pro-immigrantion rally at Marshall Park last week.|
Visa in hand, he moved to New York City before settling in Charlotte in 1992.
“I opened my own business here in 1998,” he said. “My children were born here and my daughter is at East Carolina University. She wants to be a pediatrician.”
Nassar, who supports immigration reform, said America provides opportunities no other nation can match, which makes it attractive. “We are here because it is the best country in the world. We need to work to help our family and have a better life.”
He won’t find much support among African Americans. Nationally, blacks who are likely to vote support enforcement of current laws, including Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, which opponents maintain encourage racial profiling.
According to a February Zogby poll commissioned by the Center for Immigration Studies, 70 percent of black respondents said illegal immigration is caused by lax federal enforcement, compared to 16 percent who blame immigration limits. Eighty-one percent said Americans are available to work unskilled jobs most immigrants take, as opposed to 6 percent who say more immigrants should be allowed entry due to a shortage of Americans. Half support enforcement of laws that would lead to deportation of undocumented aliens, while 30 percent favor granting legal status and a path to citizenship.
African American responses were consistent with those of Hispanics and Asian Americans.
LaWana Mayfield, Mecklenburg Justice program coordinator at Grassroots Leadership, has spent the past two years educating African Americans about immigration reform. Grassroots Leadership is a multi-racial team of organizers that supports progressive issues in the South.
“In the end we will all be affected by these laws,” she said, “whether you’re African American or not. If you’re fair-skinned and don’t look white you are going to be stopped and questioned about your citizenship. People of color are a target.”
Mayfield, whose organization has put together coalitions with the Urban League of Central Carolinas, Little Rock AME Zion Church and St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, says black leaders may show up at pro-immigration events but not rank and file members of the community.
“Why aren’t more of us showing up?” she asked. “We, as African Americans, should know about racial profiling. It’s not just the Hispanic community, it’s the African community as well.”
The lack of black participation bewilders some Hispanic leaders, who say immigration stands on the shoulders of the civil rights movement.
“We need to step in and seek the support of the African American community,” said Angeles Ortega-Moore, former executive director of the Latin-American Coalition in Charlotte. “That community is more keen to understand about being generalized.”
Ortega-Moore, whose husband is African American, notes that significant numbers of Afro-Mexicans have migrated to North Carolina, particularly in Winston-Salem.
“Unified efforts can be stronger,” she added.
Aziz Muhammed agrees.
“I would think it’s common sense (to support immigration reform) because we all came here from another country,” said Muhammed, a black Californian who was in Charlotte last week for a pro-immigration rally. “Regardless of race or color, this really affects every human being not only in America, but wherever there is racial discrimination.”
Muhammed, who travels the country selling T-shirts that read, “We will not comply” with Arizona-style immigration laws, says America has been universal in accepting immigrants in the past.
“If our ancestors came from another country to this country then we’re all illegal,” Muhammed said.
Jim Black, a Charlotte marketing consultant who works with Hispanic clients, said the reason more blacks don’t participate in the immigration debate is because there is no viable national leader.
“They seem to have rallies, but carrying signs and shouting slogans, I don’t believe that is effective,” Black said. “They seem to be so fragmented in their voice and their credibility is lessened.”
Moreover, Black said immigration has become a political and economic issue in terms of jobs and costs to taxpayers.
“Nobody seems to know of a workable way for immigrants. It has become a Mexican issue, unfortunately.”
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