Immigrant Groups Reach Out to Blacks

Krissah Thompson, Washington Post, March 20, 2010

Organizers of a march for immigrants’ rights in Washington on Sunday are reaching out to African Americans, hoping to bring the two communities together around an issue that has been a wedge between them.

The campaign includes ads for the march on urban radio stations along the East Coast, asking for listeners to lend their support. “Everyone has been hurt by the economy, especially African Americans and immigrants. The truth is, together you can demand real change,” the ads state.

The effort is part of a broader strategy among Hispanic, black and Asian civil rights groups to unite on areas of common interest and to get Congress and the Obama administration to enact major legislation on jobs and immigration–even as the nation’s political leaders are focused on health care.

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The coalition-building approach is a shift for immigrant rights groups, which held similar marches in 2006 and 2007. {snip}

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Immigration activists took flak, even from supporters, after thousands marched on the Mall to demand U.S. citizenship while carrying flags from their countries of origin. This time, organizers want to send a different signal, tying their pursuit of a wholesale overhaul of immigration law to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

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Cabrera [Clarissa Martinez De Castro, director of the National Council of La Raza’s immigration campaign] said his group spent October and November going to Sunday services at black churches across Los Angeles, sharing the stories of illegal immigrants, and they’ve begun sending news releases to African American newspapers and radio shows in California.

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But the issue of job competition remains, said Vernon Briggs, a professor emeritus of industrial and labor relations at Cornell University who favors low immigration rates.

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Leaders of black civil rights groups push back at that idea. NAACP President Benjamin Jealous and National Urban League President Marc Morial will speak at the rally Sunday in support of providing illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.

“This new generation of leaders recognize the need to build stronger coalitions,” Morial said. “It is very important that the nation’s communities of color do not simply see themselves as groups competing for crumbs.”

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Last year, La Raza and the NAACP launched their first joint ad campaign in support of overhauling the health-care system. The Urban League joined with La Raza and the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development in a program to stem home foreclosures in minority communities.

A similar level of cooperation is happening in North Carolina, where the state NAACP and the immigration rights group El Pueblo have formed an alliance in Raleigh. “We found that the same forces that fight changing the laws to help immigrants also fight civil rights, they also fight health-care reform, they also fight educational reform,” said the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP.

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