On Monday, August 26, Stacey Hopkins, a community organizer for MoveOn Atlanta and the Georgia Rural Urban Summit talked to the Macon Examiner's Patrick Davis about immigration reform just two days after the historic commemoration of the March on Washington.
Hopkins, a Brooklyn native who lives in Atlanta, explains that there are parallels of the Civil Rights Movement and immigration reform:
"The struggle is the same, it is shared and it continues. We all have skin in this game and all are needed in the battle to overcome."
Hopkins makes an important distinction that the struggle is the same, but the issue of immigration reform is seen through different political, racial and social prisms.
Let's face it, many statewide and congressional Democratic candidates running for office have generally stayed away from addressing immigration reform.
Savvy Republicans running for office who have shown a consistent contempt toward policies such as affirmative action have put forth inaccurate assertions that uses the same rhetoric toward immigrants and the prospect of immigration reform.
The silence of Democratic candidates has benefited conservative Republicans over the last twenty years, especially in mid-term elections.
In the African-American community, there must be better outreach to the growing Hispanic community and vice versa. This is a matter that can not be conveniently swept under the rug for another election cycle.
There is a famous phrase which was in the Letter from the Birmingham written by Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1963 that states: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Stacey Hopkins wants to build bridges, start the conversation, find common ground and 'move-on' for a better future for all of Georgia.
The bridge between African-Americans who make up nearly one-third of Georgia's population and Latinos --who make up approximately 10 percent-- has to be built.
Fifty years ago, the role that undocumented citizens play today in the political landscape was played by African-Americans.
Even though the history of African-Americans is unique which includes a well-documented legislative and legal history that includes the Dred Scott Decision, Plessy v. Ferguson, the desegregation of the military by Executive Order and Brown v. Board of Education, the progress would not have been possible without a multi-racial coalition.
The emergence of Hispanics in the United States began several years after the 1964 Voting Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act were passed.
When those laws were passed, Jim Crow as we know it had ended, however Republicans and Dixiecrats (Southern Democrats who supported Jim Crow policies) were attempting to find new ways through legislation to exploit labor, circumvent labor laws and thus the rise of undocumented workers became a larger issue by the decade.
Hopkins says the 1963 March on Washington began with A. Phillip Randolph:
"The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom originated with A. Philip Randolph’s call to action in 1941 to bring attention to the racially discriminatory practices of the defense industry towards Blacks. It was resurrected in March of 1963 with a broader platform that encompassed a comprehensive civil rights bill; voter protection; constitutional rights; desegregation of public schools; a federal works program and legislation barring discrimination in all employment."
The Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act are metaphorically twin brothers legislatively, and true comprehensive Immigration Reform that includes a 'pathway to citizenship' is figuratively a close cousin and is part of the family which personifies the Civil Rights Movement.
"Sadly, we have seen recent attacks of Dr. King’s dream on many fronts – from the weakening of the Voting Rights Act; the institution of voter suppression legislation nationally; Stand Your Ground laws that expand the definition of justifiable homicide that infringes on the constitutional rights of people of color and the attacks on the labor sector."
However, there is another area where those of the African Diaspora, are needed to provide defense – the fight for comprehensive immigration reform."
Hopkins has toured Georgia in an effort to bring more awareness to the issue of immigration reform and has focused mainly on areas in Central and South Georgia which includes the congressional districts of U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop and U.S. Rep. Austin Scott.
The Republican-dominated House of Representatives have dragged their feet on immigration reform and been hesitant in approving a 'pathway to citizenship'. Instead of citizenship, the phrase 'legal status' has been bantered.
It is estimated that three of the eleven million immigrants in America are of African descent and most have immigrated legally. However, in recent years, we have seen more African and Caribbean people coming to the U.S. fleeing their native country because of civil or political unrest or natural disasters and are applying for refugee status or seeking asylum using our currently broken immigration system.
In the Austin Scott's Eighth Congressional District, there are several communities and a few counties in the congressional district that have growing Latino communities.
On a side note, 7 of 10 Hispanics voted for President Barack Obama in 2012. This is a worrying trend for Republicans such as Austin Scott and other Southern Republicans moving forward.
In Scott's Eighth Congressional District, there are several examples in which African-Americans and Hispanics comprise nearly have of a city or county population, but conservatives still have strong political hold and is using some of the punitive laws passed by the Georgia General Assembly such as HB-87 to make things more difficult for undocumented citizens.
In Colquitt County, according to the 2010 census, Hispanics make up 17 percent of the county population and African Americans comprise 23 percent of the population.
Colquitt's largest city is Moultrie, a town of approximately 15,000 in which African-Americans make up approximately 50% of the town and Hispanics another 10%.So Moultrie, Colquitt's county seat and largest city is a majority-minority city.
Colquitt is significant because for a Democrat to win, they need to do a better job of competing in this county and it has the fifth largest population center in the Eighth Congressional District.
The city of Tifton has slowly become a majority-minority city, but the minority communities are under-represented in local government.
Tifton's black population is approximately 36 percent and Hispanics/Latinos comprise about 12 percent in Tift County's largest city.
Tift County has the fourth largest population center in the Eighth Congressional District.
Austin Scott is not interested in having comprehensive immigration reform that provides a 'pathway to citizenship', but wants to further promote a policy that embodies Jim Crow.
Hopkins says the following: "We see our brown brothers and sisters attacked by laws that discriminate against them merely because of the color of the skin as they seek a better life and the promise that our nation offers to all who come to her shores. We hear the same hateful rhetoric used for Blacks being directed towards other ethnicities as it rears its ugly, divisive head in legislation and public discourse."
Democrats must do a better job of engaging the Hispanic community in South Georgia, especially the younger generation who were born here and are in a position to register to vote and have an electoral impact moving forward.
It is also important for the African-American and Hispanic communities to share their stories, their dreams and aspirations.
Hopkins states the issue of unfair labor practices is a common theme that people can have a consensus.
"Our immigrant workforce is being subjected to exploitation and unfair labor practices from unscrupulous employers. Education opportunities that would strengthen our nation are being denied to DREAMers. The income inequality divide is greater now than it was fifty years ago; the economic collapse of 2008 wiped out as much wealth and expanded the income inequality between Whites and Latino and Asian households as much it did for Blacks."