Black Legislators on Front Line Against AZ-Style Immigration Bills
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Even if the Georgia legislators’ pleas for restraint were partly brushed aside, they had a demonstrably moderating impact on the legislation and a galvanizing effect on grassroots opposition to the bill.
Members of Georgia’s legislative black caucus played a leading role in spearheading amendments to water down the harshest parts of the bill, HB 87.
In rallies at the state capitol, African-American civil rights leaders like U.S. Rep. John Lewis joined black and Hispanic legislators in attacking the bill as an unwelcome reminder of a divisiveness Georgia should have kept in history’s dustbin.
In one speech on the floor of the State Senate, Sen. Emanuel Jones asked legislators to remember that “it wasn’t that long ago when vigilante groups, militia groups … routinely rounded up citizens just to exact their own form of vigilante justice.”
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is expected to sign the Georgia bill into law despite the lingering opposition of many immigrant, business, and religious groups.
Of course, not all black political leaders agree with the parallels between immigrant and civil rights, and some worry about immigrants competing with African-Americans for jobs and wages. In Georgia, Willie Talton, a black Republican, voted in favor of HB 87.
In Alabama, Democrat Barbara Boyd, a Democrat, voted in favor of a similar bill, though other black legislators such as Laura Hall have been noteworthy opponents and voted against it.
But even in states historically welcoming to immigrants, it is now African-American lawmakers who are beginning to take the initiative on immigration issues.
In New York, it was a black lawmaker from Harlem, not a Latino legislator, who introduced a bill last month that would allow undocumented immigrant students brought to the country illegally by their parents the ability to obtain driver’s licenses, in-state health benefits, and financial aid help while they study at state universities.
The bill is a scaled-down state version of the federal DREAM Act -- offering a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrant college students -- which failed in the U.S. Senate last year.
Sen. Bill Perkins said he expects inter-ethnic political alliances to become more frequent as African-American politicians explore the broad common ground uniting Latino and traditional black constituencies.
“We’re a natural ally, and very often have the same issues,” he said in a phone interview.