The CBC Legislative Conference Tackles Immigration Policy

Distinct, diverse voices and opinions were heard at the meeting. But one thing was clear: Latinos, African Americans and other people of color need to work together for immigration reform to happen.

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Leonie Hermantin remembers that when she was growing up in New York, her father told her she couldn't date any African-American boys or young men. The thing is, Hermantin's skin is brown. She was born in Haiti and spent 12 years there before her family moved to the United States.

Alexandra King, an African American, says that five Latinos have been attacked and killed since the beginning of the summer in Baltimore, where she lives, and the suspects have been African American. She wonders if anyone is doing anything to get people talking about the rift between African-American and Spanish-speaking people.

Those were two of the voices at a meeting focused on immigration policy at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. The several-day gathering of about 15,000, which takes place every September in Washington, ended Sunday.

Lots of ideas were thrown out at the immigration meeting on Sept. 17, organized by Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), but the most popular takeaway by far was that all people of color need to work out their differences and come together behind comprehensive immigration reform. It is essential, given the growing numbers of foreign-born people in the United States. Today there are 38 million people in the country born in other places, said John Flateau, a demographics expert and deputy secretary for intergovernmental relations of the New York State Senate.

The conclusions from the meeting: African Americans need to address their misconceptions that Latino immigrants are taking their jobs, Latinos from other countries must address their racism toward African Americans, Caribbean Americans must work through their distrust of African Americans and vice versa.

"No one wants to deal with the painful stuff," said Hermantin, 52, of Miami, the deputy director of the Lambi Fund of Haiti, an advocacy organization.

The Need for Legislation and Grassroots Efforts

A panel of activists and heads of advocacy groups encouraged the public to push their senators to push for the DREAM Act ("DREAM" stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), expected to be taken up by the Senate this week. The legislation would help young undocumented immigrants move toward becoming legal by, among other things, adjusting their status to permanent resident if they have been admitted to an institution of higher education or have earned the equivalent of a high school diploma. The House has not yet taken up the bill.

Panelists also said that Americans can get involved in formal conversations that are quietly taking place now on the local level.

Bishop Orlando Findlayter, chairman of the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Churches United to Save and Heal (C.U.S.H.), said his organization has sponsored opportunities for people of color to dialogue. Dr. Ron Daniels, president of the New York-based Institute of the Black World 21st Century, said his group for the last three years has quietly been holding sessions as part of what he calls the Pan African Unity Dialogue. The sessions bring together Afro-Latinos, continental Africans, Caribbean Americans and African Americans, he said.

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