NAACP, Barack Obama Call for Earned Citizenship for Illegal Immigrants
Date: Monday, April 03, 2006
By: Michael H. Cottman
The NAACP is calling on Congress to enact sweeping immigration reform that does not include enforcing a mass deportation campaign and a provision to build a 700-mile security fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.
"Our nation's immigration policy must be consistent with humanitarian values and with the need to treat all individuals with respect and dignity," Bruce Gordon, president of the NAACP, said in a statement.
"We must move away from the politics of ostracizing immigrants and instead look at the demographic shifts and needs of our nation in a larger context," Gordon said.
A U.S. House bill passed in December -- which has drawn fierce opposition from Latino groups -- would make illegal immigration a felony, impose new penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants, require churches to check the legal status of parishioners before helping them and erect fences along one-third of the U.S.-Mexican border.
Last month, more than 500,000 people gathered in downtown Los Angeles to protest the House legislation and tens of thousands rallied in Phoenix and Milwaukee. In Detroit, protesters waving Mexican flags marched from the southwest side of the city where many Hispanics live.
Senate majority leader Bill Frist said the Senate will likely begin debating the issue this week and craft its own immigration legislation, a prospect that has heightened the discussion about immigration reform and renewed calls for protests and letters to congressional leaders.
Democrats like Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) say immigration reform is a divisive issue but contend that lawmakers should work collectively to assist immigrants living in the U.S.
"I know that this debate evokes strong passions on all sides," Obama said in a statement to BlackAmericaWeb.com. "The recent peaceful but passionate protests of hundreds of thousands around the country are a testament to this fact, as are the concerns of millions of Americans about the security of our borders."
"But I believe we can work together to pass immigration reform in a way that unites the people in this country," he said, "not in a way that divides us by playing on our worst instincts and fears."
Obama said the Judiciary Committee's bill would strengthen enforcement, "but while security might start at our borders, it doesn't end there."
He said millions of undocumented immigrants live and work in America.
"We need to strike a workable bargain with them," Obama said. "They have to acknowledge that breaking our immigration laws was wrong. They must pay a penalty, and abide by all of our laws going forward.
"But in exchange for accepting those penalties," he added, "we must allow undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows and step on a path toward full participation in our society. In fact, I will not support any bill that does not provide this earned path to citizenship for the undocumented population."
Gordon said that legislation to address genuine immigration reform should include proposals that would allow people to earn the right of citizenship through hard work, the commitment of several years and meeting several monetary, security and related requirements. He said the NAACP "strongly opposes any efforts to criminalize undocumented immigrants."
Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) said while he believes border security is essential, Republicans have passed a series of immigration bills over the years that have been ineffective.
"Let me say at the outset that Democrats believe that a strong border security policy is an absolute necessity for this nation," Conyers said during a recent speech on the House floor. "We must ensure that terrorists do not simply walk into this country and lurk in the shadows of our society until they attack our people."
"But this bill is mostly not about border security," Conyers added. He said Republicans repeatedly use the fear of terrorism to push their anti-immigrant agenda.
"We do not need to adopt policies of jailing, deporting, and criminalizing immigrants to protect ourselves from the real threats of terrorism," Conyers said. "More importantly, we are giving the American people a false sense of security if we tell them a bill like H.R. 4437 will help keep them safe."
Political commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson said civil rights leaders overall have been "virtually mute" on the subject of immigration. He said there are no position papers, statements or press releases on the websites of the NAACP, National Urban League or SCLC on immigration reform. And, he added, "The Congressional Black Caucus hasn't done much better."
"The CBC and civil rights leaders tread lightly on the immigrant rights battle for two reasons," Hutchinson said in a recent column. "They are loath to equate the immigrant rights movement with the civil rights battles of the 1960s. They see immigrant rights as a reactive, narrow, single-issue movement whose leaders have not actively reached out to black leaders and groups."
Meanwhile, the NAACP released a set of principles for revised federal immigration legislation:
* Support of family unification by not subtracting the visas given to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens from visas available to all family immigrants thereby reducing the backlogs in which people wait for many years to reunite with their closest family members;
* Support of protections for agricultural workers and a path to legal permanent residency and citizenship for college age students;
* Support of due process rights for immigrants facing deportation, including access to fair, humane and common-sense procedures such as a speedy trial and adequate counsel;
* Opposition to efforts to penalize anyone for providing humanitarian assistance to their fellow human beings, regardless of the citizenship status of the person in need of help;
* Opposition to any efforts to require, encourage or deputize state or local police to enforce federal immigration laws;
* Opposition to Department of Homeland Security detention of individuals indefinitely;
* Opposition to low-level Citizenship and Immigration Service personnel exercising unreviewable authority to judge good moral character of an applicant for citizenship;
* Opposition to mandatory detention of undocumented immigrants without individualized consideration of whether detention is necessary.
"Problems with the immigration system cannot be resolved without looking at the larger economic needs of the nation," Gordon said, "such as the creation of job training programs and small business programs, as well as federal education assistance so that all Americans can have enhanced opportunities."