Take racism out of immigration reform

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(NNPA)—For my money the debate over immigration reform is far too narrow. Our civil rights leaders have followed the predictable dynamic created by Hispanics who have justly mobilized to normalize their status in America. We should support them because the stakes of strengthening our coalition at this moment in history will bear substantial fruit as both groups become a larger part of American society, its political system and its economy. So, it is a civil rights struggle to oppose the racist law passed by the Arizona legislature to profile Hispanics and relate any illegal acts to their immigration status.

Nevertheless, it is also a civil rights struggle to use this moment to finally eliminate the racism in immigration law in general. This means that our take on immigration reform should be addressed more clearly and forcibly to creating fair opportunities for people of African descent to enter this country along with everyone else.

Over the years some progress has been made. For example, the initial quota established in 1924 which allowed 1,100 Africans to enter a year, increased to 1,400 by 1952. After African countries became independent in the 1960s, immigration to the U.S. increased, reaching 40,000 per year by 2000. Between l960 and 2008 African immigration to the U.S. amounted to 1.4 million. Still, this constituted only 3.8 percent of the total foreign population of 38 million in that period.

The result of such a restrictive entry policy for Africans has been that largely those with economic resources have been eligible to apply for immigrant status. Thus, while 23 percent of Americans in general have college degrees, 51 percent of African immigrants have college degrees. This has also meant that while the myth of the African cabdriver persist, the real story is that the average wage of Africans is among the highest in the nation second only to Asians. The second generation of African-born immigrants in the U.S. are now prominent in American universities and in many areas of corporate and human service occupations.

The situation of Haitian immigrants, long a source of vexation to many, was exposed again by the recent hurricane as blatantly racist. Some Haitians who survived the hurricane and made it to the U.S. found themselves locked up in detention centers in Miami for the lack of visas. This is consistent treatment of Haitians who have been routinely and vigorously turned away from U.S. shores while White Cubans have enjoyed a Cold War policy that has privileged their immigration to the U.S.. Between 1980 and 2008, total Haitian immigration to the United States was 535,000 but Cuban immigration during that same period was nearly one million.

The arrangement for Cuban immigrants was always based on a political fiction because Cuba has been no real threat to the United States, so the comparative treatment of Haitians and other Afro-Caribbean immigrants must be justified on the basis of a racial prohibition. The test is that if Cuban immigrants had been Black instead of White would they have been allowed to come?

Apparently, the U.S. was paying no attention to Mexican/Latin American immigration as Latin American immigration in that period constituted 53 percent (32 percent Mexican) of all sources, with over 10 million undocumented people from that region in the country. Meanwhile it paid attention to Haiti, since only 76,000 immigrants were “unauthorized” from Haiti in that same period.

One of the routes to the stabilization of Haiti in the post-hurricane era would be to allow humanitarian immigration. How would it look to have satisfied the Latin American dimension of the immigration problem on those grounds while the African dimension of it festers?

Generally, I believe that there can be no “comprehensive immigration” solution that does not take into consideration people of African descent. The Obama administration should try to eliminate the racial dimension of immigration policy, but then it may be banking on not having another problem. But it is also fair to ask why there is no problem created by African-American mobilization on this matter, why no mobilization by African born or Haitian born immigrants?

One source of the future expansion of the “African-American” population is by natural birth rates, but another is by immigration, to miss this opportunity to elimination racist immigration is to limit the future power of our community.

(Dr. Ron Walters is a political analyst and professor emeritus from the University of Maryland College Park.)

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