AWOL: Black Leaders and Immigration

Where are the Old Line Civil Rights Groups?

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The great irony in the gargantuan march of tens of thousands in Los Angeles and other cities for immigrant rights is that the old civil rights groups have been virtually mute on immigration and the marches.

The silence from mainstream civil rights groups and the Congressional Black Caucus’s modest support for immigrant rights is a radical departure from the past.

The CBC and civil rights leaders tread lightly on the immigrant rights battle for two reasons. They are loath to equate the immigrant rights movement with the civil rights battles of the 1960s.

Black leaders also cast a nervous glance over their shoulder at the shrill chorus of anger rising from many African-Americans, especially the black poor, of whom a significant number flatly oppose illegal immigrant rights. But illegal immigration is not the prime reason so many poor young blacks are on the streets, and why some turn to gangs, guns and drug dealing to get ahead.

The battle over immigrant rights will be fought as fiercely and doggedly as the civil rights battle of the 1960s. That battle forever altered the way Americans look at race. The immigrant’s rights battle will profoundly alter the way Americans look at immigrants. The silence of civil rights leaders won’t change that.

There’s been considerable silence on this from many places. Speaking as one who was at the L.A. Immigrant Rights March on Saturday, all I can say is, get on board, this train is leaving the station, and a mighty train it is.

We are seeing the birth of a new movement, one like the civil rights movement of the 50’s-60’s. It will change the country forever and will spawn other movements in its wake as it builds.

Watching the marchers pass as I was flyering was an extraordinary experience. Most were workers, maybe working 2-3 jobs to keep food on the table. Some were undocumented, others not. They were happy, smiling. Self-policing too. Sue saw one guy start to drink beer out of a paper bag and others told him no, not now, this is too important. Most of all, it was the way they walked, relaxed, with dignity, and with the knowledge their voice would now be heard, and that the whole world was watching.

Piolin, a radio DJ, was instrumental in getting other DJ’s onboard, and it was by radio that news of the march spread. He spoke at the press conference and afterwards he said to a reporter, I’m paraphrasing, things were hard for me when I first came here and I was treated badly many times. I don’t want that to happen to others. That’s why I’m here.

At heart, that’s what this is about.