Sunday, August 10, 2008

Immigration Policy is a Civil Rights Minefield

Juan Williams (blog post from LA Times below) has a good point, immigration is about Civil Rights these days. While our government is waiting to decide about the Civil Rights of non-citizens, human rights in the U.S. is going down the tubes. What kind of nation has a national police force (ICE) that periodically raids factories, homes, malls, and churches looking for what they consider "major lawbreakers" who actually committed a misdemeanor when they entered the U.S. without a visa?

Of course all of this is unsettling for many African Americans. If one group of vulnerable people is being tormented like this, why couldn't it happen to Blacks whose experience in the U.S. contains multiple narratives of disrespect and violence.

The U.S. is in scapegoating mode these days, and things will only get worse with $4.00 a gallon gas.
Immigration: the next civil rights battlefield
Point: Juan Williams
Los Angeles Times
Dust Up - August 9, 2008

Civil rights in America are individual rights. And when it comes to protecting individual rights today, the key political and social battlefield in America is the rights of immigrants.

In other words, immigration is the civil rights issue of today.

Some people are reluctant to acknowledge that the fight over civil rights doesn't belong to any one group but is part of an ongoing American struggle for equal justice. But the fight is not limited to the greatest social movement America has ever seen -- the African American struggle for equal rights under law. In fact, there are major civil rights debates today about provisions of the Patriot Act. That too is a civil rights debate that is critical to the future of the republic.

But the defining civil rights issue at the start of the 21st century is immigration. Last year's polarizing political discussion in Congress on immigration reform, the effort to demonize illegal immigrants and the effort to pit one minority group against another are evidence that immigration is as compelling today as was the effort to end legal segregation in the 1950s and '60s.

With Latinos being the largest minority group in America, the conversation about civil rights had to change. The two-way conversation between blacks and whites -- with blacks demanding equality while expressing grievance and whites locked in a struggle with entitlement as well as conscience and guilt -- has become a three-way conversation. The Latino population and the growing number of immigrants from around the world -- Asian, Eastern European, African and others -- are all contributing their own views of America and racial equality.

Latinos and blacks in most of the country have a common bond as minorities. In a big city such as Los Angeles, there is also increasing competition for political power. Blacks have long been the gatekeepers of minority political power, but the sheer size of the still-growing Latino population is forcing new hands onto the levers of power. Youth gangs and jail inmates are too often separated by black, Latino and white as a method of control that leads to enmity and violence.

In a city such as L.A., the large number of Latinos also creates new issues, such as whether English should be the official language of the city or the state, the education of children who come to school but don't speak English, and, of course, the cultural shifts that come with the increasing presence of music, fashion and slang that comes from Latinos. So there is no question that the discussion of civil rights has been changed by immigration and the dramatic demographic shifts that now have one-third of our nation made up of people of various colors.

Juan Williams is a senior correspondent for National Public Radio, a Fox News analyst and author of "Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America -- and What We Can Do About It."

Why immigration makes African Americans nervous
Counterpoint: Erin Aubry Kaplan


Civil rights certainly belong to more than one group -- they're individual and collective. That goes without saying. Blacks are most closely identified with civil rights battles for a very good reason: From almost the moment they were freed from slavery, they were denied their due rights by law and by custom for 100 years. They were denied their rights even though the 14th Amendment "guaranteed" due process and equal protection under the law. The federal legislation of the 1960s was the most famous outcome of a long effort by blacks to attain those guaranteed rights and finally become full citizens in their own country. That effort is still going on.

This is qualitatively different from the battle for immigrant rights. This isn't to say that immigrants aren't entitled to civil rights, that their civil rights aren't routinely violated or that they don't endure discrimination. But to replace the ongoing struggle of black Americans with the struggle of immigrants as the premier civil rights movement in the country at the moment is to foster the kind of destructive competition among ethnic groups that you say you deplore.

While there is indeed a "common bond" between blacks and Latinos based on the fact they share living spaces in cities like L.A., their histories are different. Their experiences and expectations of the United States are different. They assimilate at very different rates and for different reasons (while regarded as "others," Latinos have always been considered more "white" than blacks and therefore more socially acceptable). They are not a single minority. Cooperation between black and brown should never be discouraged, of course, but that cooperation has to be built on a shared understanding of differences, different agendas and even tensions. Unfortunately, there's little political will to do this, at least in California: Black leaders are too threatened by the surge in Latino populations and political representation, and Latinos are numerous and established enough to not need blacks at all, politically or otherwise. We can sit and talk all day long about how we need to get together, but a more valuable conversation would be about why we haven't gotten together very effectively so far.

Frankly, black people have a right to be nervous about their status on the national agenda -- because they aren't on it. Even though the effects of discrimination and racial neglect still abound (schools in many areas are more segregated than ever, and it was recently revealed that the rate of HIV/AIDS infection among blacks has been massively underreported for years), they're being told that their issues are no longer relevant. They're being told that simply because immigrant communities are growing or Barack Obama is running for president, they've lost a claim to their own interests and concerns; the best they can do is merge them with somebody else's. This is patronizing at best and disenfranchising at worst. No wonder that a recent Pew research poll found that blacks on the whole are disturbingly pessimistic about their own future. Such a dim view of things is not good for anybody's America.

Erin Aubry Kaplan is a freelance writer and contributing editor to Opinion. She is a former weekly columnist for The Times and a former LA Weekly staff writer. She blogs at

for link to LA Times blog post click here

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