"I think comprehensive immigration reform is not about a specific community, it's about a problem that we need to address as a whole," White House press secretary jay Carney said last week.
But some African-Americans view Obama's immigration drive as an overture to Hispanics who helped power his re-election in November with 71 percent of their vote.
"The amount of blacks who are impacted by this legislation is so small it's infinitesimal," talk show host Earl Ingram said. "Minuscule."
A 2009 report by the Migration Policy Institute found that black immigrants from all regions of the world accounted for just 9 percent of the overall immigrant population in the United States.
However, a 2011 report by the same group discovered that blacks from Africa, though just 3 percent of the U.S. foreign-born population, are among the fastest-growing immigrant groups in this country.
From 1980 to 2009, the number of African blacks in the United States has swelled from 64,000 to 1.1 million, according to the 2011 report.
If that growth trend continues, Africa will supplant the Caribbean as the major source region for the U.S. black immigrant population by 2020, the Migration Policy Institute study concludes.
Still, Ingram says many of his listeners see Obama's attempt to push forward on immigration as a reminder of what the president hasn't done to improve economic conditions for African-Americans.
"I would say a bulk of my listenership is anti-immigration," he said. "You have to understand that in the community in which I live the percentage of African-Americans who are unemployed. They look at what's going on with immigration as an affront to African-Americans who can't pay their mortgages because many of the immigrants come here, they are hired at less than minimum wage."
The African-American unemployment rate is at 13.8 percent, according to recently released government figures, nearly twice the 7 percent jobless rate for whites. The nation's overall unemployment rate is 7.9 percent. For Hispanics, the rate is 9.7 percent.
A 2009 study by George Borjas of Harvard University, Jeffrey Grogger of the University of Chicago and George Hanson of the University of California, San Diego, looked at 1960-2000 census data and found that as immigrants disproportionately increased the supply of workers in a particular area, wages of African-American workers in that area fell, the employment rate declined and the incarceration rate rose.
"Our analysis suggests that a 10 percent immigration-induced increase in the supply of a particular skill group reduced the black wage by 2.5 percent, lowered the employment rate of black men by 5.9 percentage points, and increased the incarceration rate of blacks by 1.3 percentage points," the professors wrote in the study.
Todd Shaw, a political science and African-American studies professor at the University of South Carolina, believes "the concern that African-Americans are hostile to immigrant workers is a bit overplayed."
"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."
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