Don’t Sleep on the Black Immigrant Vote

It's strategically placed and could hold the key in the general election.

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Both Obama and McCain have qualities that appeal to black immigrants, but for obvious reasons, Obama has more to gain by bringing them into his fold. As the son of an African immigrant whose lead in the presidential race is the embodiment of the ultimate American Dream, he is living proof that even the son of a Kenyan goat herder can achieve great things in the land of opportunity, cliché notwithstanding.


McCain is admired for his principled and practical stand on immigration and his social conservatism appeals to like-minded black immigrants. He reached across party lines in an unsuccessful attempt to reform the nation’s immigration system and crafted legislation that was ultimately rejected that would have helped some of the 12 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the U.S. legalize their immigration status. He often refers to illegal immigrants as an important component of the nation’s economy that cannot realistically be deported and should not be allowed to live on the margins of society.


Ohio, which also holds its primary on Tuesday, also has a substantial number of blackresidentswho are immigrants or come from immigrant backgrounds. Some 65,250 residents reported their ancestry as sub-Saharan African in the 2000 Census, and 11,375 said they were of West Indian, non-Hispanic ancestry. Separately, some 22,000 residents said they were born in Africa.


Black immigrants have established large enclaves throughout the country. Washington State, whose primary Obama won, is home to communities of Somali and Eritrean immigrants. Washington, D.C., has a huge Ethiopian population. In New York and Miami, Haitian and Jamaican immigrants dominate the large West Indian-American community, which also includes a good number of Trinidadians and others from the Caribbean. Boston has Cape Verdeans. Immigrants from countries throughout the African continent have settled in states all over the South and, also in the Bronx and other northeastern cities.


The candidates should be engaging these black immigrants in their local newspapers. They should be holding forums with them at their community centers, civic clubs, and places of worship. They should advertise on immigrant radio stations, and take part in call-in programs on immigrant talk shows. (Even in the Internet Age, radio remains the primary source of news dissemination for most black immigrant groups.)