Immigration Activists Seek Black Community's Support

In southern California, some African Americans say illegal immigrants burden schools and hospitals, and they take away jobs. Now, groups that want to stop illegal immigration are reaching out to the black community for new support.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

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In Southern California, some African-Americans say illegal immigrants are putting enormous burdens on schools and hospitals and taking away jobs. Well, now groups fighting illegal immigration are reaching out to the black community looking for new support. NPR's Ina Jaffe reports from Los Angeles.

INA JAFFE reporting:

Every Saturday morning a coffeehouse in the mostly African-American Crenshaw neighborhood is turned over to a current events meeting. The LA Urban Policy Roundtable, as it's called, features a different topic and different speakers each week. The founder is political analyst Earl Ofari Hutchinson.

Mr. EARL OFARI HUTCHINSON (Founder, LA Urban Policy Roundtable): I can't tell you how many times we start out on one topic--we can be talking about the police, we can be talking about schools--almost always--you can take this to the bank--someone will say, `Well, what about illegal immigrants?' We'll say, `But what's that got to do with the topic?' `Well, that has everything to do with it. They're the ones that are running down our neighborhoods.' It just goes on and on and on.

JAFFE: On this Saturday morning the topic is street gangs. There are about three dozen people here, a typical crowd, but none of them will be the first to raise the topic of illegal immigration. Joseph Turner will do that. He's white, heads an organization called Save Our State, and he's come by to meet and greet and give out his business card.

Mr. JOSEPH TURNER (Save Our State): I think black Americans are tired of seeing illegal aliens come into their communities and push them out and turn into Little Mexicos or Little Tijuanas.

JAFFE: Turner is treated with courtesy here, until three protesters from the Progressive Labor Party show up. All of them appear to be white. They call Turner a racist. Then it gets hard to tell who's baiting whom.

Mr. TURNER: I love being a racist.

Unidentified Man: You love being a racist?

Mr. TURNER: Yeah.

Unidentified Man: This man is proud of being a racist. He just said he was proud of being a racist.

JAFFE: The shouting goes on and results in a call to the police. The protesters, who refused to give their names, are escorted out. Joseph Turner hangs out in the lobby area talking to whomever shows interest. An educational consultant named Ed Scott takes Turner's card.

Mr. ED SCOTT (Educational Consultant): From my perspective, African-Americans feel that they have paved the way and that illegal immigrants have come in under the auspices of civil rights and taken over. And I think that's going to be a big problem in the future.

JAFFE: Some think it's a big problem right now.

(Soundbite of "The Terry Anderson Show")

Mr. TERRY ANDERSON: Illegal immigration has hit the black neighborhoods harder than any other neighborhoods in this country. And black folks are angry! Why wouldn't they be angry?

JAFFE: "The Terry Anderson Show" is heard on radio stations in Los Angeles and Phoenix. He used to discuss a lot of topics of interest to political conservatives, he says, but illegal immigration is now his only topic.

Mr. ANDERSON: Black folks have had it on this issue. Now a lot of them aren't vocal. They won't say it because they don't want to be perceived as going against another, quote--and I don't use this word often, but I will use it today--"minority," unquote. But most black folks, when they get together behind closed doors, they're angry.

JAFFE: There has long been tension at the grassroots level between blacks and Latinos, says Harry Pachon, president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California.

Mr. HARRY PACHON (President, Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, University of Southern California): I think it's always been easier to blame individuals than it is to blame government. So, for example, if schools are not doing their job, one of the things that we will blame is illegal immigrants from Mexico or from El Salvador or Colombia.

JAFFE: The complaints about illegal immigrants have a familiar ring, says Earl Ofari Hutchinson, one that African-Americans should be able to recognize.

Mr. HUTCHINSON: All of the negative things about illegal immigrants that are coming out of the mouths of so many African-Americans--I find it ironic because some of the same things I've heard coming out of historically racist whites about blacks.

JAFFE: Hutchinson finds the talk destructive and divisive. Joseph Turner of Save Our State says he found his visit to the current events roundtable worthwhile. Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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