Immigrant Rights Advocates Prod U.S. Blacks The immigrant rights movement that recently mobilized hundreds of thousands of Hispanics has also reached out to African-Americans. In Atlanta, Rev. James Orange addressed a rally. But advocates say that forging a common agenda is proving difficult.

Immigrant Rights Advocates Prod U.S. Blacks

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Along with the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who took to the streets this week, there were some veterans of the country's civil rights movement. Here's the Reverend James Orange addressing a rally in Atlanta.

JAMES ORANGE: We've come together that in the hopes of the civil rights community, the Latino community, the African community, the Asian community. The people of the world come together to say our time has come.

NORRIS: Immigrant advocates say they're reaching out to African-Americans to forge a common agenda. But it may be a difficult alliance to build, as NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.

JENNIFER LUDDEN: For Wade Henderson, of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, this week's marches were a watershed. He says he was touched when he read that marchers in Mississippi sang We Shall Overcome in Spanish. He kept thinking back to the impact of Ralph Ellison's 1952 novel, Invisible Man, that exposed the indignities of the African American experience.

WADE HENDERSON: And now you are seeing an undocumented immigrant community that has been largely invisible to most Americans asserting themselves, having their voices heard in the political process, and making known their circumstance to, you know, American citizens.

LUDDEN: But on the airwaves of Washington D.C.'s WPFW this week, it wasn't all warm and fuzzy on a local call-in show.

RON: Good morning.

Unidentified Man: Good morning Ron. This word immigrant, For those of us who are descendants of African-American slaves We know what that word is. It's a slap in the face to us because everybody knows that we weren't immigrants.

LUDDEN: Whites, he says, who came here in the 18th and 19th century were immigrants. We got kicked to the curb then, and we're getting kicked again, he says, because the newest immigrants have a lock on all the entry-level jobs.

Unidentified Male: And we're the ones that get labeled. We get labeled as lazy, don't want to work. And all we've been doing since we got here was work. But then once we get to the point, we ain't gonna work for slave wages no more, then this is what the game is.

LUDDEN: Wade Henderson acknowledges the perception that Latinos are taking jobs from blacks is widespread. But he says it's wrong, according to a recent report on the plight of African Americans.

HENDERSON: And none of the studies that were cited in any way listed immigration issues as a factor in determining the circumstances of black men and poverty. I think it's often used as a way of, you know, stirring the pot.

LUDDEN: Or put another way, a tactic of divide and rule. Hilary Shelton of the NAACP says African Americans need to recognize this and remember history. Back in the 1940s he says corporate America used black workers as scabs to undermine efforts to unionize. Only by joining together did the working class make gains. And Shelton says the same is true with today's illegal immigrants.

HILARY SHELTON: If we had a program that documented workers, it would create a scenario in the country in which all workers would have that equal protection. That equal protection means that they can begin to organize as laborers to collectively bargain for better wages, and for health insurance, and to be paid a living wage so that they can even plan for their own retirement. That's a big deal.

LUDDEN: And that's exactly the message Jaime Contreras is trying to get out to both communities. Contreras is with the National Capital Immigration Coalition, a major force behind Monday's mass marches. He's been trying to get black churches and civic groups to support the rallies. And Contreras has made the rounds at schools telling Latino and black students about their common interests.

JAIME CONTRERAS: Why do people still have to live in poverty? Why do people still have to live without health insurance, or health benefits? And why do people have to be pushed out of communities? And so those are issues that affect both Latino or immigrants in general, or affects the African-American, and affects working people in general.

LUDDEN: To do something about those issues, Latinos need political power. That means votes and that may be the most important help sympathetic African- Americans can give. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington.

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