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Yvette Clarke: President Must Act on Immigration – New York Daily News

October 21, 2009 6:00 AM
Yvette Clarke: President Must Act on Immigration

By Michael McAuliff

Rep. Yvette Clarke and about 100 New York clergy members have a message on immigration for President Obama: It’s not just about Latinos and it’s time to get moving on reform.

Clarke and the clergy, many representing Caribbean and African immigrants, are set to deliver that message today to fellow members of Congress and the media in a 1 p.m. press conference.

“I think if the President applies himself to immigration the same way he applies himself to health care, we can pass immigration reform,” Clarke told us.

“As a son of an African immigrant, who better to understand the need?” Clarke said. “If his father didn’t come here to be a student, we wouldn’t have Barack Obama.”

That’s a pretty big debt to live up to.

But Clarke also wants people to remember that immigrants, including the undocumented, are not just Hispanics, although Latinos are often at the forefront of demanding immigration reform.

She says people like her, a second-generation immigrant from Jamaica, and people from Africa, like Obama’s father, are important to the reform debate.

“Theirs are faces we don’t often associate with the challenge of being undocucmented,” she said. “But that community is really suffering with lack of mobility, and fear of how this country is dealing with enforcement.”

It’s an especially interesting stance for Clarke, who represents both a large immigrant community in Brooklyn, and a large African-American constituency.

Historically, American blacks have been suspicious of immigrants who are seen as lowering wages and taking jobs from people born in the country. Iconic liberal Barbara Jordan, the first black Southern Congresswoman, is now widely cited on anti-immigration Web sites for the work she did in the 1990s leading Congress’ Commission on Immigration Reform that advocated reducing immigration.

Clarke thinks that attitude has changed, especially in diverse places like Brooklyn.

“It’s sort of a problem that has been used to divide and conquer for those who are nativist in this nation,” she argued. “Everyone acknowledges that immigrants take jobs that Americans won’t do.”

And the sides have gotten to know one another, at least in Flatbush and nearby neighborhoods.

“What I have found, particularly over time among my constituents, is much more empathy now with the immigrant population, because of intermarriage and exposure,” she said.

And that will be on display this afternoon, but we suspect it will take more than that to get the President to tackle immigration this year.

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