A new civil rights march in Alabama this week

Jeff Tyler Mar 5, 2012

Bob Moon: This week, civil rights activists in Alabama are on a trek from Selma to Montgomery. A march along that same route in 1965 helped bring about the Voting Rights Act. This time, activists are protesting what they see as the erosion of that law. At the same time, they’re promoting Latino rights.

Marketplace’s Jeff Tyler has the story.

Jeff Tyler: The march began in Selma on Sunday. The mostly African-American crowd protested state voter ID laws they say could keep some black voters from the polls. But marchers were also critical of Alabama’s tough new immigration law.

Janet Murguia was one of the Latinas in the crowd. She’s president of the National Council of La Raza.

Janet Murguia: The attacks on voter rights and the attacks on immigration rights have really brought our communities together.

In the past, some economic issues have divided the two groups. Marching beside Murguia was Emanuel Cleaver, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Emanuel Cleaver: There is an issue of economic competition between African-Americans and Latinos, particularly at entry-level jobs in this country.

Still, he says it’s in the self-interest of African-Americans to level the playing field for all workers in this country. He supports giving undocumented Latinos some kind of legal status.

Cleaver: And they would have to be paid minimum wage. And so, African-Americans actually come out better the better Latinos are treated.

As far as competition between blacks and Latinos, some academics say the research shows little impact.

Professor Douglas Massey follows immigration at Princeton University. He says that immigration in Los Angeles actually helped African-American employment.

Douglas Massey: The massive increase in the Latino population created strong demand for public services and boosted African-American employment in the public sector, where they had a strong comparative advantage, being native English speakers and citizens by birth.

African-American workers were able to move up.

Massey: There was a shift of unskilled, low-wage jobs and upgrading into public sector jobs with higher pay and benefits.

In Alabama, more Latino faces will join the march this week. It will finish in Montgomery with a call to end the state’s immigration laws. Expect to hear more songs like this: “Si se puede,” Spanish for “Yes we can.”

I’m Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

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