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May 4, 2006
Immigration Activists Lose African-Americans

The backlash against the immigration demonstrations continues as the strident language of activists has provoked some anger from the African-American community, which sees few parallels between their struggle as American citizens and the demands of illegal aliens for amnesty from prosecution and deportation. The New York Times reports that a broad swath of the Democratic Party's most important demographic component has grown increasingly hostile towards an amnesty on the basis of civil rights:

In their demonstrations across the country, some Hispanic immigrants have compared the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s struggle to their own, singing "We Shall Overcome" and declaring a new civil rights movement to win citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.

Civil rights stalwarts like the Rev. Jesse Jackson; Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia; Julian Bond and the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery have hailed the recent protests as the natural progression of their movement in the 1960's.

But despite some sympathy for the nation's illegal immigrants, many black professionals, academics and blue-collar workers feel increasingly uneasy as they watch Hispanics flex their political muscle while assuming the mantle of a seminal black struggle for justice.

Some blacks bristle at the comparison between the civil rights movement and the immigrant demonstrations, pointing out that black protesters in the 1960's were American citizens and had endured centuries of enslavement, rapes, lynchings and discrimination before they started marching.

Others worry about the plight of low-skilled black workers, who sometimes compete with immigrants for entry-level jobs.

And some fear the unfinished business of the civil rights movement will fall to the wayside as America turns its attention to a newly energized Hispanic minority with growing political and economic clout.

The problem revolves around the entire notion of civil rights and the confusion with natural rights. Natural rights come from human existence and need no authority to grant them. Natural rights include freedom of speech, of thought, and of religious expression, and occupy the primary position in the Bill of Rights as an acknowledgement of their status and not as a government grant. Civil rights, on the other hand, arise from one's status as a citizen or resident alien of the country and are government grants. Civil rights include the vote, the right to due process under the law, access to government services such as education and health care, and so on. Whether illegal aliens now have access to some, all, or none of these comes from government decisions regarding access and not some inherent qualification for these benefits.

Immigration activists do not understand the civil rights struggle in this basic sense, but African-Americans do. Despite their status as American citizens, with lineage in this nation exceeding the immigrant waves that followed the Civil War, the government denied them equal participation in civil rights, as well as some natural rights, such as free speech and assembly. They did not march to become citizens or achieve normalization of their residency status -- they marched to force the government to treat them as the citizens they were and are.

This disconnect rightly irritates blacks who watch and listen to advocates for illegal aliens attempt to assume the mantle of Martin Luther King. Had he lived to this day, Rev. King may have advocated for illegal immigrants, but that wasn't his mission during his life. He lived and died to get the government to acknowledge that African-Americans were indeed full citizens entitled to the same rights and privileges as American citizens of any other descent. Wrapping themselves in King's legacy is an arrogancy on the part of illegal aliens that hasn't escaped notice by blacks.

The advocacy of leaders such as Jesse Jackson, John Lewis, Julian Bond, and Joseph Lowery will not dissuade their constituency from comprehending the essential differences between the two movements. It will also not fool them into overlooking the economic impact on African-Americans that illegal immigration has. Unemployment among blacks runs high enough that they see unfettered immigration as a serious economic threat -- and while that may be somewhat overblown now, if Congress and this administration adopt an amnesty program, the resultant flood of illegals will definitely impact economic opportunities for blue-collar black workers. The Times quotes a Pew Hispanic Center poll that shows twice as many blacks as whites report losing a potential job to an illegal immigrant -- an experience that does not tend to bolster any sense of comeraderie.

Jackson and his peers run a big risk in continuing their support for illegal immigration activism. Their constituency will increasingly question this policy as the protestors continue to usurp the real civil-rights struggle to justify amnesty of illegal aliens, and as they do, they will increasingly question whether this tired leadership truly represents their interests first, or the interests of the Democratic Party.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 4, 2006 5:20 AM

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