As I watched President Barack Obama address the nation on his “controversial” Executive Order on immigration reform, I was reminded of the evening that I was inside Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967 when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr gave his courageous sermon in opposition to the Vietnam War. Even some of the supporters of Dr. King questioned his theological audacity to link civil rights injustice in the United States to human rights injustice in Vietnam.
Decades later, history has proven Dr. King to have been right in his vocal opposition to the Vietnam War. What will history say 50 years from now about President Obama’s leadership on immigration and his determination to fix the system?
Leadership is about speaking out against injustice. But it is also about taking action to correct injustice. Civil rights leadership, as exemplified by Dr. King, was audacious with the courage to take action to challenge injustice in a manner that inspired millions of people to join the cause. In his Riverside Church speech, Dr. King stated, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
I know that there are many in the Black American community who might not understand how the issue of immigration for Latino Americans and others is linked to the issues of racial and economic justice for Black Americans. The goals of racial equality and economic empowerment are not exclusive or limited to Black Americans. With the “browning of America” steadily changing the racial and ethnic demographics of the population of the U.S., it important for Black Americans to be supportive of immigration reform.
We should be in solidarity with our Latino sisters and brothers because it is the moral and right thing to do. Also, supporting immigration fairness and equal justice is a strategic step forward for Black America. We know what the sting and pain of racial prejudice and injustice feels like.
The political context and timing of President Obama’s executive action that will help possibly 5 million or more Latino and other undocumented people who have lived in the U.S. for at least the past five years should not be under estimated. This was a major leadership move by the nation’s first Black president. Like health care reform, immigration reform had been debated for decades without any significant progress until this president made it happen.
Yes, there is going to be a big political fight over immigration. Black Americans should weigh in on this debate from an activist perspective rather than from the position of disinterested spectators.
As President Obama affirmed, “What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal, that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will.”
Equality in a democracy where are people are treated fairly and justly is a moral and noble goal that we all should strive to attain. Yet for 45 million Black Americans, we also know the bitter taste of centuries of oppression, discrimination, injustice, violence and racial hatred. In fact it is because of our ongoing struggle for freedom, justice and equality that still continues to this day is the reason why we cannot afford to be silent on the issue of immigration equal justice. I am prepared to stand with the president of the United States on this matter. Are you?
Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is the president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and can be reached for national advertisement sales and partnership proposals at: firstname.lastname@example.org; and for lectures and other professional consultations at: http://drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc