Why the NAACP Gets Top Billing at an Immigration Rally

The head of the civil rights group will give the keynote address.

ByABC News
April 10, 2013, 11:09 AM

April 10, 2013— -- At a rally for immigration reform at the Capitol on Wednesday, many of the speakers and performers will be Latinos with connections to immigrant rights. Legendary labor rights activist Dolores Huerta and Grammy-winning Latin pop artist Olga Tañon will be there, as well as a multitude of other prominent, bilingual Latinos.

But the keynote speaker at the rally, Benjamin Jealous, comes from a different civil rights tradition. He's the president and CEO of the NAACP, an organization that has historically focused on black civil rights.

See Also: Why Immigration Is Part of the Civil Rights Struggle

Black civil rights leaders have played an increasingly prominent role in advocating for the passage of immigration reform, a trend that's evident at today's rally.

There's a reason for that: the immigrant rights struggle has parallels to the past and ongoing civil rights struggles in black communities.

In a March article for ABC/Univision, Arturo Conde drew on a 2012 speech by black civil rights leader Al Sharpton to illustrate the commonalities. Sharpton spoke about state-level laws targeting immigrants:

"There are those that want to use the immigration laws, profile Latinos, then they'll vote from there to profiling Africans, and Trinidadians, and Haitians," Sharpton said. "We're telling you just like 47 years ago, when our fathers stood on these steps and fought for our right to vote, and our right to be free of racism, we stand with the community to tell you we will repeal these immigration laws."

At first glance, the alliance appears as a natural fit, but it does come with challenges. While economists tend to view immigration on the whole as a positive economic force, there are some areas where immigrant labor appears to drive down wages for U.S.-born blacks.

Harvard economist George Borjas has suggested that the influx of lesser-skilled immigrants from 1960 to 2000 may have contributed to a rise in unemployment among U.S.-born blacks. But he concedes that because of the many variables, the cause of the rise in unemployment "remains unexplained."

Despite these economic tensions, groups like the NAACP are now at the vanguard of the push for immigration reform.

"Now is the time to fix our nation's broken immigration system," Jealous said in a statement on Wednesday. "The NAACP has been on the front line fighting discriminatory state laws targeting immigrants of color in states like Alabama. On Wednesday we will join with allies to show Congress that a broad, diverse coalition of conscience demands a fair and common sense path to citizenship."