Why Blacks Should Support Immigration Reform

For African Americans, it's an opportunity to create political coalitions with other people of color.

Immigration supporters march in Los Angeles. (Frederic J. Brown/Getty Images)
Immigration supporters march in Los Angeles. (Frederic J. Brown/Getty Images)

(The Root) — Reduced to its very essence, the contention over immigration reform is about numbers, meaning how many immigrants of color will further alter the complexion of America and how they might vote. For that reason, African Americans should care about the outcome of the current debate in Washington, D.C., because it is about their political survival.

House Speaker John Boehner announced recently that the Republican-led House of Representatives would develop its own immigration reform bill. As it stands, Congress is at an impasse over the issue because House Republicans will likely not approve a bill that allows the 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States — 75 percent of whom are Hispanic — a path to citizenship. The Senate bill, approved earlier this month, includes a path to citizenship, with eventual full voting rights.

So if you have yet to see the writing on the wall from Boehner’s Republicans — keeping millions of new immigrants from voting — let that be a reason to tune in.

Here’s another reason: According to the 2011 U.S. census, there are 44 million blacks and 52 million Hispanics. Although white Hispanics are the most visible, many immigrants from Mexico, Cuba, Columbia, Peru and other Latin countries are now self-identifying as black.

Hispanics, Africans and Caribbeans, who have overlapping identities, have all contributed to the “browning” of America, in which half the children entering kindergarten this year are people of color. These immigrants and their first- and second-generation descendants will help make up the racial and ethnic majority by 2050, according to census reports.

Meanwhile, research shows that this new demography and other factors are likely to benefit Democrats. Just this week the Pew Hispanic Center released a study that found that of Latino immigrants who are not U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents (and therefore likely unauthorized immigrants), “some 31 percent identify as Democrats and just 4 percent as Republicans.” Indeed, the impending immigration bill by House Republicans may very well be about reversing the trend toward an increased Democratic base.

While digesting that possibility, it is important to know that America has always had voluntary black immigrants alongside forced migration of Africans, which made blacks the majority in the South. Besides internal and external pressures, there was the belief in the 1800s that “the increase in Africans would be injurious to the white race.” The Atlantic Slave Trade ended — in part — because of this fear.