And by “break”, I mean — he shows that this perception that African-Americans and Latinos are somehow at odds over immigration reform doesn’t exist, despite assertions in the media. Just before the holiday, the Prez gave a landmark speech advocating for comprehensive immigration reform. Here’s a quick quote from his speech:

Over the years, many have attempted to confront this challenge, but passions are great and disagreements run deep.  Yet surely we can all agree that when 11 million people in our country are living here illegally, outside the system, that’s unacceptable.  The American people demand and deserve a solution.  And they deserve common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform grounded in the principles of responsibility and accountability.

Here’s the reaction from a major group of African-American pastors (from Christian Post):

African-American and Hispanic pastors also addressed criticisms – mainly that illegal immigrants are taking away jobs from poor black Americans – on Wednesday while publicly rejecting claims of a “black-brown” divide on the issue.

“We have come together to dispel the ugly myths about a black and brown divide on immigration reform,” said Derrick Harkins, senior pastor of the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and co-convener of the coalition. “Throughout our history, immigrants have strengthened our country with their hard work and commitment to core American values.”

“Immigrants are not taking our jobs or public resources,” said Harkins. “The reality is that we are unified across ethnic and racial lines. We will not waver as we pursue justice on this human rights issue of our day.”

The African-American and Hispanic coalition includes Esperanza for America; the National Baptist Convention, USA; the African Methodist Episcopal Church; and the Progressive National Baptist Convention.

In April earlier in the year, he addressed 24 armed service members who became citizens (video above) in a ceremony that received almost zero press coverage as I recall. Note that you’ll see plenty of both black and brown faces in the crowd. And that’s what you don’t hear about immigration — it’s not all from Mexico. The current problems with immigration impact people from Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean of African descent.

You probably know some of these people. They live in your neighborhood — what about all the Jamaican, Ethiopian and Senegalese restaurants that have popped up in the hood these past 10-20 years? Just look at this photo:

Here’s the caption for this photo:

President Barack Obama presents Marine Sgt. Ledum Ndaanee, originally from Nigeria, the Outstanding American by Choice award during a naturalization ceremony for active duty service members in the Rose Garden of the White House. Ndaanee served two tours in Iraq where he was wounded by an IED in 2007. April 23, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

There are conservatives who would have the United States deport this brave young man (and presumably any family Ledum has here in the States) despite his service to the Nation. Since 9/11, 58,000 members of the Armed Forces have become American citizens, sometimes taking the oath of allegiance while deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s time for comprehensive immigration reform. That doesn’t mean that we can or should throw open our borders. Security is key. But we need to establish a path to citizenship for the (at least) 11 million people who are here already and also figure out a way to welcome new citizens who can make great contributions to our country more effectively. In the patriotic speech, he delivered the essential parameters of the reform he’d like to see. His (and my) hope is that Republicans will get on board to solve one of the major problems holding back progress for our economy. Here’s the meat of what the president said in his speech last Thursday which was appropriately scheduled near the Fourth of July holiday when we celebrate our country:

Now, once we get past the two poles of this debate, it becomes possible to shape a practical, common-sense approach that reflects our heritage and our values. Such an approach demands accountability from everybody -– from government, from businesses and from individuals.

Government has a threshold responsibility to secure our borders. That’s why I directed my Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano — a former border governor — to improve our enforcement policy without having to wait for a new law.

Today, we have more boots on the ground near the Southwest border than at any time in our history. Let me repeat that: We have more boots on the ground on the Southwest border than at any time in our history. We doubled the personnel assigned to Border Enforcement Security Task Forces. We tripled the number of intelligence analysts along the border. For the first time, we’ve begun screening 100 percent of southbound rail shipments. And as a result, we’re seizing more illegal guns, cash and drugs than in years past. Contrary to some of the reports that you see, crime along the border is down. And statistics collected by Customs and Border Protection reflect a significant reduction in the number of people trying to cross the border illegally.

So the bottom line is this: The southern border is more secure today than at any time in the past 20 years. That doesn’t mean we don’t have more work to do. We have to do that work, but it’s important that we acknowledge the facts. Even as we are committed to doing what’s necessary to secure our borders, even without passage of the new law, there are those who argue that we should not move forward with any other elements of reform until we have fully sealed our borders. But our borders are just too vast for us to be able to solve the problem only with fences and border patrols. It won’t work. Our borders will not be secure as long as our limited resources are devoted to not only stopping gangs and potential terrorists, but also the hundreds of thousands who attempt to cross each year simply to find work.

That’s why businesses must be held accountable if they break the law by deliberately hiring and exploiting undocumented workers. We’ve already begun to step up enforcement against the worst workplace offenders. And we’re implementing and improving a system to give employers a reliable way to verify that their employees are here legally. But we need to do more. We cannot continue just to look the other way as a significant portion of our economy operates outside the law. It breeds abuse and bad practices. It punishes employers who act responsibly and undercuts American workers. And ultimately, if the demand for undocumented workers falls, the incentive for people to come here illegally will decline as well.

Finally, we have to demand responsibility from people living here illegally. They must be required to admit that they broke the law. They should be required to register, pay their taxes, pay a fine, and learn English. They must get right with the law before they can get in line and earn their citizenship — not just because it is fair, not just because it will make clear to those who might wish to come to America they must do so inside the bounds of the law, but because this is how we demonstrate that being — what being an American means. Being a citizen of this country comes not only with rights but also with certain fundamental responsibilities. We can create a pathway for legal status that is fair, reflective of our values, and works.

Now, stopping illegal immigration must go hand in hand with reforming our creaky system of legal immigration. We’ve begun to do that, by eliminating a backlog in background checks that at one point stretched back almost a year. That’s just for the background check. People can now track the status of their immigration applications by email or text message. We’ve improved accountability and safety in the detention system. And we’ve stemmed the increases in naturalization fees. But here, too, we need to do more. We should make it easier for the best and the brightest to come to start businesses and develop products and create jobs.

Our laws should respect families following the rules -– instead of splitting them apart. We need to provide farms a legal way to hire the workers they rely on, and a path for those workers to earn legal status. And we should stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents by denying them the chance to stay here and earn an education and contribute their talents to build the country where they’ve grown up. The DREAM Act would do this, and that’s why I supported this bill as a state legislator and as a U.S. senator — and why I continue to support it as president.

[...]

But I believe we can put politics aside and finally have an immigration system that’s accountable. I believe we can appeal not to people’s fears but to their hopes, to their highest ideals, because that’s who we are as Americans. It’s been inscribed on our nation’s seal since we declared our independence. “E pluribus unum.” Out of many, one. That is what has drawn the persecuted and impoverished to our shores. That’s what led the innovators and risk-takers from around the world to take a chance here in the land of opportunity. That’s what has led people to endure untold hardships to reach this place called America.

One of the largest waves of immigration in our history took place little more than a century ago. At the time, Jewish people were being driven out of Eastern Europe, often escaping to the sounds of gunfire and the light from their villages burning to the ground. The journey could take months, as families crossed rivers in the dead of night, traveled miles by foot, endured a rough and dangerous passage over the North Atlantic. Once here, many made their homes in a teeming and bustling Lower Manhattan.

It was at this time that a young woman named Emma Lazarus, whose own family fled persecution from Europe generations earlier, took up the cause of these new immigrants. Although she was a poet, she spent much of her time advocating for better health care and housing for the newcomers. And inspired by what she saw and heard, she wrote down her thoughts and donated a piece of work to help pay for the construction of a new statue — the Statue of Liberty — which actually was funded in part by small donations from people across America.

Years before the statue was built — years before it would be seen by throngs of immigrants craning their necks skyward at the end of long and brutal voyage, years before it would come to symbolize everything that we cherish — she imagined what it could mean. She imagined the sight of a giant statue at the entry point of a great nation -– but unlike the great monuments of the past, this would not signal an empire. Instead, it would signal one’s arrival to a place of opportunity and refuge and freedom.

“Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand,” she wrote,

A mighty woman with a torch…
From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome…
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!”…
“Give me your tired, and your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to be free…
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Let us remember these words. For it falls on each generation to ensure that that lamp -– that beacon -– continues to shine as a source of hope around the world, and a source of our prosperity here at home.

Thank you. God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America. Thank you. (Applause.)

I admit — I got a little misty when I got to the end of his speech. How about you?

Full disclosure: one of my clients at Fission Strategy is Reform Immigration FOR America. But they didn’t ask me to post this. I work for them because I think this issue is one of the most important facing the nation today.

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