ORANGE, NJ — Oranges-Maplewood NAACP President Tom Puryear and Irvington NAACP President Merrick Harris agree there is a direct correlation between the civil rights movement and U.S. immigration. They teamed up with Karol Ruiz and Cynthia Osorio of Wind of the Spirit, a faith-based nonprofit immigration advocacy and legal aid group, and Pastor E.T. Stoddard, of Seventh Day Adventist Church in Orange, to host an immigration workshop at the church on Saturday, Jan. 27, just ahead of Black History Month.
“The rights of our people are very important and we need to make sure that they know what to do at any time,” said Puryear on Saturday, Jan. 27. “As was said during the presentation, we need an emergency plan. This country has racist tendencies and we need to be able to address those racist tendencies, so that they can be stopped.”
Harris agreed with Puryear and added that human rights have always been an integral part of the civil rights movement, dating back to the late 1950s and 1960s. He also said currently there is a sense of urgency involving the fight to retain rights in the face of perceived threats to the freedoms most Americans enjoy and for which the majority of immigrants come to the United States.
“The bottom line is yes, everybody has certain rights and, because of this present administration that’s in the White House, for some reason, they feel that they can dictate and take away certain rights that people have had for many, many years,” said Harris on Saturday, Jan. 27. “And as the NAACP, for years, has always stood together and fought for people’s rights, no matter who or what or where.”
Puryear said the Trump administration’s recent immigration policy shifts to revoke the Temporary Protected Status of 200,000 El Salvadorans, 45,000 Haitians and 2,500 Nicaraguans who have been living and working in this country for years, coupled with his allegedly negative remarks about African countries, Haiti and other nations, is a reminder that the fight for civil rights in America is still being fought.
“Racism never left. It’s alive and well and it’s never going anyplace, and we have an obligation to oppose it wherever it appears,” said Puryear. “The comment that was made in regard to Cuba and Haitian people during tonight’s workshop is very real and we’ve known it for a very long time. The darker you are, the more problems you’re going to have in this country.”
Puryear was referring to comments Ruiz made in answering a question at the immigration workshop that asked why is there such a difference between U.S. immigration policy regarding Cuba and Cubans, as opposed to Haiti and Haitians?
Ruiz said the immigrants who most often violate U.S. immigration laws and policies hail from Canada, rather than any of the countries Trump allegedly denigrated.
“The pastor is polite and a man of god and much kinder than I am, so I’m just going to be clear: The United States is and has been always racist,” Ruiz, whose parents legally emigrated to the United States from Colombia, said at the workshop. “There is a dictator in Haiti and there is a dictator in Cuba. The reason that Cubans are treated differently is because Cubans are whiter than Haitians. That’s it. It’s that simple. It’s not just Cuba and Haiti, it’s also Poland. And do you know who the majority of visa overstays are in this country? Canadians. It is not Mexicans, it’s Canadians, but we’re not chasing Canadians in those little I.C.E. (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) vans. We’re chasing Mexicans.”
Puryear agreed with Ruiz and quoted one of his favorite authors to give insight into why the NAACP must become involved with the current U.S. immigration policy debate.
“James Baldwin said it best: ‘If they come for you in the morning, they will come for me in the evening,’ and that’s where it is,” Puryear said. “It just cannot be for some; it has to be for everybody. We have to protect the rights that the Constitution gives us.”
Harris said Puryear was right and Baldwin appears to have been prescient.
“The bottom line is they started out with going after the Mexicans,” Harris said. “Now they’re going after the Haitians and they’re going after the El Salvadorans and other people in other countries and, the next thing you know, it’s going to fall back on our lap. As African-Americans, it’s just a matter of time before they start hitting us again.”
Harris and Puryear both noted that, although Canadians are known to be the biggest violators of U.S. immigration laws, the Trump administration has never talked about building a wall across the Canadian border to keep the northern neighbors out, as he has proposed doing along the country’s southern border with Mexico.
“Guess what Canadians look like?” Puryear asked. “They could pass for Americans.”