Mar 19 2013
Washington’s renewed push for immigration reform comes fast on the heels of an election that positioned Latinos as the new deciders. But in all the post-election buzz and the Beltway’s bipartisan agreement that overhauling immigration is the best way to snag Latino votes, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. Immigration is, of course, a multiracial issue. And it’s not just a matter of votes but one of justice.
Perhaps last on the list of groups associated with the current immigration debate are the nearly 3.3 million black people who live in the U.S. but weren’t born here. They make up only 9 percent of the immigrant population, a proportion that doesn’t lend itself to political expediency.
Despite the optics, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has made overhauling the system a focus in its official policy agenda for the year. (The others are voter protection and fighting poverty.) It also formed a task force co-chaired by Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), a member of the House Judiciary committee—a committee that should hold significant sway in any immigration bill.
A Push for Better Jobs and Fewer Prisoners
The CBC’s immigration reform priorities include a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants and for non-citizens in the United States on temporary visas. Caucus members add that they want to strengthen worker protections and improve conditions for low-income laborers in general.
“If employers continue to break the law by paying people under the table and [using] them as shadow workers, that lowers the quality of life for all workers,” Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV), a co-chair of the CBC immigration task force, tells Colorlines.com. “That’s particularly true for African American workers who are often in the same situation as those immigrants.”
Along with a path to citizenship and better labor conditions, the CBC is also calling for a reform package that maintains existing pathways that Africans use to immigrate legally. This issue made an early cameo in November when the Republican-led House attempted to gut the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, which opens the door for people from countries with historically low rates of US immigration. Nearly half of diversity visa holders are from African countries including Ethiopia, Ghana and Kenya.