Juneteenth Launches African-American Immigration Reform Initiative
New America Media, News Report, Khalil Abdullah Posted: Jun 19, 2009
Today, on Juneteenth, a date steeped in the rich symbolism of freedom for African Americans, community organization ACORN intends to raise the banner of comprehensive immigration reform by announcing the launch of The Black Leadership Immigration Project from the pulpit of a Phoenix, Ariz., church.
ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis, who will be joined by Rev. Al Sharpton, said she came to Phoenix “because African-Americans need to be part of immigration reform, the civil rights movement of the 21st Century.”
Lewis said that when she speaks from the pulpit of Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, home to an African-American congregation, she will bring “an anti-racial profiling message and the fight for the right of immigrants to be treated as human beings into Joe Arpaio’s backyard.”
Phoenix is in Maricopa County, whose Sheriff Joe Arpaio is being investigated by the federal justice department for racial profiling in his aggressive enforcement of immigration laws.
In addition, tensions in the state have been heightened by recent shooting deaths in Arivaca, Ariz., a three-hour drive almost due south of Phoenix near the Mexican border. Raul Flores and his daughter Brisenia, 9, were slain, allegedly by members of the Minuteman American Defense, in what some speculated was a bungled burglary/home invasion.
Nevertheless, Monica Sandschafer, head of ACORN’s Arizona chapter, senses a growing willingness in the county’s residents to be more outspoken about condemning harsh anti-immigrant sentiments -- and Arpaio’s gambits at snaring undocumented immigrants by targeting Latinos in highly publicized raids in and around Phoenix.
“Arizona is ground zero for immigration, unfortunately. A particularly egregious example of what happens in the vacuum of comprehensive immigration reform,” Sandschafer said, adding that she is pleased at the local representation supporting the event.
“I’m glad Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, is coming. Ben Jealous couldn’t make it because of a scheduling conflict,” she said, referring to the NAACP president, “but we have pastors and faith leaders, as well as representatives from Tonatierra/Puente, a day laborer organization here, all gathering in the defense of civil rights and against racial profiling of any community.”
Other organizations scheduled to participate in the morning’s Juneteenth Unity Prayer Service include Arizona Interfaith Alliance for Worker Justice; Arizona Latino Commission; Greater Phoenix Urban League; the National Hispanic Leadership Conference, Mary Rose Wilcox, a Maricopa County supervisor who has been highly critical of Sheriff Arpaio.
Sharpton has criticized Arpaio as well and called for his resignation as recently as April after a raid the sheriff conducted. But, it has been reported that the reverend will likely accept an invitation to meet with the sheriff to debate their respective positions.
Lewis made an acutely political and culturally conscious decision in selecting June 19 as the kick-off for what she hopes will become an effective vehicle to encourage African Americans to join the movement for comprehensive immigration reform. On that date in 1865, almost three years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued by President Lincoln, African-American residents of Galveston, Texas, finally got word of their emancipation.
But Lewis’s selection of Phoenix as a kick-off site on Juneteenth harbors another message. Though not a federal holiday, some form of Juneteenth observance is officially recognized in more than 30 states. Arizona is not one of them.
“ACORN is the largest grassroots membership organization of black and brown people in the United States,” said Lewis. The organization has 500,000 member families. Its growth could represent a powerful voice for immigration reform if its members weigh in on their elected representatives.
In fact, Lewis was in Washington, D.C., in early June participating with almost 800 other community organizers during the kick-off of the Reform Immigration FOR America campaign, a coalition of faith, labor, corporate, and other immigrant reform activists.
“Our membership is unique: one third immigrant, one-third African American, one third Latino,” Lewis said of ACORN. “We deal with all the bread and butter issues that affect poor people in this country.” ACORN’s members understand the complexities of poverty and struggle in America, she added. Then, with a steady gaze and an air borne of the confidence of imminent victory, Lewis smiled: “My support for immigration reform is patriotic. African Americans don’t need to be in front, but we need to be a part.”
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