Immigration reform has been put on the back burner in Congress because of more pressing issues like the crisis in Syria and a looming budget battle. But it was front and center at a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's session on "Bridging the Gap: A Pan-African Approach to Immigration Reform."
New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries noted that unlike a majority of undocumented Latinos, most Black immigrants don't cross U.S. borders illegally "because there is no real border for us to cross."
"But we also have to recognize that immigrants of African descent tend to be out of status and that categorization has to be dealt with uniquely," he said.
The original version of the DREAM Act allowed a young child brought to the U.S. illegally to receive an expedited path to citizenship. But an undocumented child from the Caribbean who entered the U.S. on a visa, and then overstayed that visa, would not benefit from that provision.
"That's not justice and it would disproportionately affect immigrants of African descent," he said. "The good news is in the bill that came out of the Senate, those children will be treated the same way. We're not going to allow any immigration reform bill to pass in this Congress without making sure that everyone has an opportunity to benefit equally, particularly immigrants of African descent."
William Spriggs, chief economist at AFL-CIO, said that African-Americans have an important role in ensuring that Black immigrants are not discriminated against. That discrimination, he noted, often trickles down to those who were born in the U.S.
"If we want to be the new majority then we have to act like the new majority and start setting the rules," he said. "And those rules have to make sense from our experience, our sense of justice and sense of morality. This is the first chance to work together as a new majority to set up that agenda."
He added that the moral and economic future of the nation and Black history is at stake.
Trina Jackson of the Network for Immigrants and African-Americans in Solidarity said that research shows that many African-Americans believe the stereotypes they hear about people from other countries and stressed the importance of educating both groups about each other.
She also said that the lack of solidarity has led to inadequate leadership on immigration rights and pushes the focus on Latino immigrants.
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(Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)