A few years ago, when immigration reform activity was hot and heavy, a U.S. Senate version of reform legislation included a path to citizenship and other reasonable proposals. A House version was draconian. Illegal immigrants caught would be charged with crimes and sent to prison rather than merely be deported. And any employer caught hiring undocumented workers would be heavily fined, if not arrested, and have their assets confiscated.
The Hispanic community rose up and, using culture, language and media, got upwards of 750,000 people out in the streets to protest, particularly the House version of the bill. Along with other pressures, it worked, and the whole thing was dropped. Better to keep the broken immigration process in place than risk the strong turn right that seemed to be in the offing.
Well, this time around, both versions of the legislation promise something better than what’s here now, although the Senate version is still the only one that offers a path, though a very long one, to citizenship.
The major problem, however, is that immigration reform this time around is only seen as a Hispanic issue nationally, and that has sucked the air out of the room for any other groups.
Hispanics, contrary to popular belief, are not the fastest growing immigrant community in the U.S. According to almost all current data, that distinction belongs to the Asian community. Their interests, then should clearly be addressed in any immigration reform effort. Secondly, African and Afro-Caribbean immigration is intense, and has been for at least the last decade.
Neither current version of the immigration legislation includes Africans and those from the Caribbean. In fact, the Senate version intentionally excludes them, while providing spaces for up to 10,500 new Irish immigrants annually.
There is a device called the diversity visa, colloquially referred to as the Green Card lottery, that accounts for at least 25,000 African immigrants per year. The only qualification for that device is to submit an application to be randomly selected from a country that does not already have a large contingency in the U.S. There is no skill requirement, nor is there an educational requirement. It is all application and luck. But the Senate version strikes the diversity visa opportunity completely, in favor of quotas for Asians, the Irish and others.
Understandably, the continental African community is a bit upset over that situation, as is the Congressional Black Caucus. Minus the diversity visa program African/Afro-Caribbean immigration will drop down to a trickle.
Can the African and Diasporan community mount a massive public display of their interests in this matter, or will we merely protest silently and futilely over this issue? It is really important, and it is the perfect vehicle for a political collaboration between continental Africans who reside here, and the African Diasporan community. Numbers and focus count here, so are we willing to rise to the occasion?
African Americans used to be the favored ethnic minority group in America (whether one accepts the idea of majority-minority or not). We had demonstrated the ability to create massive waves of public outrage at political wrongdoing, particularly as it impacted our civil rights and liberties. We’ve lost that title to Hispanics, but that shouldn’t mean we can’t have a requiem and demonstrate again that we shouldn’t be ignored and disregarded politically.
This is what 21st century Pan Africanism is about. With all due respect for the Trayvon Martin efforts, they are basically futile venting exercises at this point. It’s time for some hard-nose inside behavior that can actually result in a victory.
Let’s collaborate, folks. Africans and the African Diaspora in America, together on a common fight for something substantive. Let’s keep the diversity visa program in immigration reform.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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