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Panel Urges African-Americans Participation in Immigration Dialogue

WASHINGTON — The Washington Informer, Margaret Summers writes about a recent panel at the Congressional Black Caucus’s Annual Legislative Conference that focused on immigration reform. Panelists urged native-born blacks and black immigrants to work together and combat racism and discrimination.

Participants in a recent Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference panel discussion on immigration, “Bridging the Gap: A Pan-African Approach to Immigration Reform,” said African-Americans and African and Caribbean immigrants must become more involved in shaping immigration policy reform.

Panelists focused on how the political and social concerns of African-Americans and black immigrants intersect, and how black immigrants and African-Americans together could effectively combat racism that affects them both.

“We know this country has a history of exploiting working people of color,” said Dr. L. Toni Lewis, healthcare chair of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Lewis said that federal immigration reform legislation could benefit native-born and immigrants of color, particularly in employment.

Senate Bill S.744, which the U.S. Senate passed in July, addresses employment discrimination relative to immigrants, said Esther Olavarria, the Cuban-born director of immigration reform on the national security staff, Executive Office for the President. “It’s not a perfect immigration reform bill, but it’s consistent with the President’s views that the majority of undocumented immigrants should be able to obtain work permits and not be exploited. It modernizes the legal immigration system, which hasn’t been changed since the 1990s.” The House, which opposes the bill, is scheduled to consider the bill this fall, said Olavarria.

A number of Jamaican guest workers in the audience spoke exclusively with the Informer about their labor situation as one example of immigrant and black labor exploitation. The Jamaicans are part of a group of more than 150 guest workers from Jamaica represented by the Louisiana-based National Guestworker Alliance in a labor dispute.

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