Why immigration matters to black America

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

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

An even greater number of black immigrants come to the U.S. from the Caribbean, with black migrants from places like Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti and the Dominican Republican immigrants numbering some 1.7 million, making up more than half of all black migrants to the U.S., according to MPI.

More than 90 percent of the immigrants from the English and French-speaking Caribbean are black, compared with less than 15 percent of black immigrants form the Dominican Republic and just 3 percent from Cuba, according to the D.C.-based think tank. But in part because the vast majority of black Caribbean immigrants speak English fluently, they tend to do well — very well in fact — earning more on average than African-Americans and having higher average levels of educational attainment.

And while the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that black Caribbean immigrants are the least likely to be undocumented of any black immigrants in the U.S., the fact remains that 16 percent are estimated to be in the country without authorization. That’s also true of 21 percent of black Africans and nearly one in three black immigrants from other places, like Europe and South America.

Black immigrants in need of protection

Comprehensive immigration reform would directly impact those undocumented black immigrants, as would the extension of programs like Temporary Protected Status, which currently — and tenuously — protects some Haitian immigrants from deportation.

Black immigrants clearly have a stake in immigration reform. But so does black America.

The deals being reached on minimum pay and worker protections for low skilled workers not only would impact immigrants working in the service industries, they also would safeguard the wages of American workers and the unemployed — making it harder for employers to troll for the lowest common wage denominator, or to avoid hiring American workers at all. With black unemployment hovering at above 13 percent, that means reform could have a direct impact on black households, even if black immigrants don’t represent a majority of the undocumented.

As Antonio Gonzalez, of the William C. Velazquez Institute explained in an interview with NBCLatino.com, “the truth is while the main beneficiaries of legalization might be Latinos and Asians, in a broader sense it’s really about our economy, and everyone benefits from the boost of millions of underground workers coming to the surface.”

Gonzalez said Jealous’ participation in Wednesday’s rally was important:

“The human and civil rights of the undocumented is the modern-day civil rights movement,” says Gonzalez. “You can’t have 10 million people excluded from society and have a health democracy.”

Velazquez says that while there are tensions in some communities between Latinos and African Americans over issues like jobs, “the African American leadership has been terrific and in solidarity with the undocumented rights movement, more than any other constituency,” says Velazquez.  ”They get it.”

And in fact, African-American support for immigration reform is a logical progression from the historic fights for civil and equal rights in America.

A modern-day civil rights movement

“Comprehensive immigration reform is a continuation of the civil rights movement, which many African-Americans have been the protectorate over since the beginning of our nation’s history,” Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) said. “It’s about equality for all and the elimination of second class citizenship”

Clarke, whose background is Jamaican, represents New York’s 9th Congressional District, co-chairs of the CBC’s Immigration Taskforce. “I believe we must highlight the similarities and encourage African Americans to become more involved in the national discussion,” Clarke said.

“The legacy of the Civil Right Movement and the impact of African Americans on this country in perpetuity rely on everyone’s engagement. Many of us know someone who will benefit from comprehensive immigration reform and the time has come for us to stand with them and advocate for their right to fully participate in our civil society.”

Follow Joy Reid on Twitter at @TheReidReport.