WASHINGTON -- “It’s more a concern about the opportunity ladder than it is the perception that African-Americans don’t think there should be economic fairness to other groups,” Shaw added.
Many civil rights leaders also believe that African-American concerns about the White House and Congress pushing for new immigration laws are overhyped. NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said, “Four out of five black voters are in support of immigration reform.”
But some polls tell a different story. A Pew Research poll released in January found that 56 percent of African-Americans feel there are “very strong” or “strong” conflicts between immigrants and people born in the United States. But perceptions may be improving –January’s figure is a drop from 61 percent in 2009.
A different Pew Hispanic poll found that while all groups of workers have seen gains in employment, Hispanics and Asians have experienced a faster rate of growth than African-Americans and whites.
Hispanic employment increased 6.5 percent between 2009 and 2011, compared with a 2.2 percent increase for African Americans and just 1.1 percent for whites.
The sensitivity of the immigration issue within the African-American community isn’t lost on African-American and Hispanic leaders who are striving for a unified front.
Sharpton and Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, an immigration advocacy coalition, walked together to their seats at Obama’s second inauguration ceremony last month.
Murguia has made strengthening ties with the African-American community a key component of her leadership. She was the first Hispanic leader to give the keynote speech at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Breakfast in Birmingham, Ala. She marched arm in arm with Sharpton, Jealous and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., at last year’s Selma-to-Montgomery march, which focused on voter rights and anti-illegal immigrant laws like those in Alabama.
“I think they see echoes of their own civil rights movement in the struggle to bring equity and dignity to people who are in the shadows,” Murguia said of the black leaders.
They also see political opportunity, said Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo.
“African-American leadership understands, and I understand this clearly, that we must come together with the Latino community and help them address some of their issues so that down the road they help us address ours.”