Why immigration matters to black America

Opinion

New American citizens take the oath of citizenship at a naturalization ceremony on April 9, 2013 in New York City. Fifteen immigrants from 13 countries became U.S. citizens during the ceremony held at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, which is dedicated to immigration history. Last year U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), naturalized more than 676,000 new U.S. citizens and more than 84,000 of those were in the New York district. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

New American citizens take the oath of citizenship at a naturalization ceremony on April 9, 2013 in New York City. Fifteen immigrants from 13 countries became U.S. citizens during the ceremony held at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, which is dedicated to immigration history. Last year U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), naturalized more than 676,000 new U.S. citizens and more than 84,000 of those were in the New York district. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Immigration reform, and the politics surrounding it, have become synonymous with Hispanic-Americans.

Never mind the fact that the vast majority of Latinos in America are already citizens, born in the United States, and that not every immigrant — documented or otherwise — is Hispanic. The easy stereotypes make for simplified storytelling. But the issue of immigration, as you might expect, is far more complex.

For black America, the conversation about comprehensive immigration reform has often seemed disconnected from the core experience of most members of the community.

So it might come as a surprise to some that Ben Jealous, head of the NAACP, will keynote today’s Washington D.C. rally calling on Congress to pass an immigration bill.

African-American leaders rally to the cause

“We need common sense solutions that uphold our nation’s values and move our nation forward,” Jealous said of his reasons for participating in the Wednesday rally. “It is time to put to rest far-right-wing delusions about mass deportations and massive racial profiling programs like those in Alabama and Arizona. The very idea of America demands and deserves that we fix our nation’s broken immigration system in a way that would make Lady Liberty proud.”

Jealous is not the only African-American engaged on the issue. On Tuesday, New York representatives Yvette Clarke and Hakeem Jeffries, along with Nevada Congressman Steven Horsford, co-chairs of the Congressional Black Caucus’ immigration task force, held a form on “immigration reform in black America” at Howard University.

And on Saturday, CBC member Rep. Donald Payne will participate with the SEIU union in a pro-immigration reform rally at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, NJ.

“America is a nation of immigrants.  Nowhere is that more evident than in the 10th Congressional District. We have welcomed large populations of different immigrant groups from Africa, Asia, Central America, and the Caribbean,” Payne said in a press release Tuesday. “It is our diversity that is our incredible source of strength, and we must remember that many of our parents and grandparents faced the same challenges immigrants face today – opposition, incredible prejudice, and the challenge of learning a new language.”

It’s the economy, stupid

So why should black America care about immigration reform? It’s simple — the numbers, and the economy.

According to the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Immigration Policy, which released a series of recent studies on black immigrants to the U.S., black Africans are among the fastest growing U.S. immigrant groups — comprising 3 percent of all foreign-born Americans — some 1.1 million people. Their numbers have grown at accelerating rates in recent decades — up 200 percent during the 1980s and 90s, and up nearly 100 percent since 2000.

Diversity visas — a program whose goal is to increase the share of immigrants from underrepresented countries, are the most common way African immigrants come to the U.S., and in recent months, black caucus members have fought to save the program, and its approximately 55,000 annual visas, from sequestration cuts.