On May 1st the national day of protest for immigration rights, it was a bit surprising to see a white guy at the local Mexican fast food chain taking my order. He informed me that today was a “special menu” in light of the “workers strike.” I said ok and looked over the offerings and proceeded to walk out. Not necessarily in solidarity with the workers but because what I wanted to eat wasn’t on the special menu. But it occurred to me that a day without immigrants would require other people doing jobs currently performed by immigrants. In the past few months hundreds of thousands have rallied in support of immigration rights in response to a harsh cruel immigration bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, which would make it among other things a felony for the illicit stay in the United States and would greatly fine business for hiring illegal immigrants. It is an understatement to say that the immigration debate in America is complex. The United States is itself a nation of immigrants some voluntary, others as in the case of black ancestors, involuntary.

Pro-immigrant advocates argue that America could not function without those who work in the shadows of the American economy. Those on the other side of the debate argue that illegal aliens drive down real wages because there are so many workers willing to work for less than what they would be paid. On one hand it is true people do not have the right to be American citizens. On the other hand the global economic system is such that and creates such a gulf between the haves and those who can only dream of having, who would not try to come to the United States where the opportunity to raise the standard of living is greater.

And of course, one cannot ignore race in this immigration debate especially as the KKK leads anti-immigration rallies and citizen “Minutemen” border volunteers have racist extreme group affiliations. It must be asked whether would the debate be so controversial if poor white Canadians were in the words of Pat Buchanan “invading” the United States, taking the jobs Americans are not willing to do.

The immigration debate is a difficult issue for the African American community as well. On one hand to be supportive of the brown brothers and sisters in a fight for social justice and on the other the issue of whether illegal immigrants are taking away jobs that would be going to African Americans. Additionally, many in the black community are feeling the effects of their communities and neighborhoods changing due to immigration. A Brown Black divide if one does exist is perhaps due to communication barriers and respect or the lack thereof for each other’s cultural traditions and history reflective in the comments by Mexican President Vicente Fox. Fox commented that Mexican Americans are willing to do the jobs that blacks won’t do didn’t help. What Fox does not understand is that this is probably due to the fact that African Americans dedicated 400 or so years to free labor to the United States and are not so willing to pick tomatoes for well under minimum wage.

People come to the United States because they have no other choice. If it were between getting into the United States or your family starving, what would you do? In the end any immigration reform must be realistic. There will not be nor should there be a wall built on the U.S border, a real guest worker provision providing for an avenue of citizenship for those who are here must be included in any reform. Those who seek to come here should be given the opportunity to come here legally without fear of exploitation. Mexico and other Central American countries must do a better job in supporting their people as opposed to continue to feed the needs of the few privileged elites dominating their political and economic policies which will in turn eliminate the need for immigration.