Black Americans should stand together with undocumented immigrants.
Watching the landmark demonstrations by immigrants and their supporters, few could miss the parallels with the historic protests of the 1960s that helped power civil rights laws and moved our country closer to equal opportunity.
Now, in African-American communities, newspapers and chat rooms around the country, those parallels are part of a pointed debate: Would giving undocumented immigrants lawful pathways to employment and citizenship be good or bad for black Americans?
While immigrant labor could reduce the salaries and competitiveness of low-wage black workers, immigrants are also consumers whose demand for goods and services can create new jobs and rejuvenate neighborhoods where black people work and live.
But a narrow focus on employment figures misses the point.
The stake African-Americans have in the immigration debate is not just a matter of economic quid pro quo, but of national values, shared destiny and the kind of country we want to be.
Demanding respect for the dignity, equality and human rights of all people is central to African-Americans' history and consciousness, as well as to our own advancement.
Black abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth spoke out for the rights of women of all races, as well as for African-Americans.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached the ideal of mutuality, that "whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly," and that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Progressive African-American leaders in today's debate are increasingly advancing the same inclusive vision.
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., argues that, at the same time that we attend to border security, "we must allow undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows and step on a path toward full participation in our society."
NAACP President Bruce Gordon is calling for immigration policies "consistent with humanitarian values and with the need to treat all individuals with respect and dignity."
And Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., has said, "We do not need to adopt policies of jailing, deporting and criminalizing immigrants to protect ourselves from the real threats of terrorism."
The real threats to African-American opportunity derive not from the United States becoming a nation of immigrants -- which, in fact, we have always been -- but from our becoming a nation of Wal-Marts, a nation of prisons and a nation in which a disaster like Hurricane Katrina can happen to our nation's most vulnerable members.
Large employers like Wal-Mart increasingly abandon health coverage, pensions and living wages for their workers. They also thwart unionization, which has historically lifted the status of African-Americans, along with millions of other Americans.
Rigid sentencing schemes and unwise law enforcement practices have led to huge and disproportionate increases in the imprisonment of blacks and Latinos for nonviolent and drug offenses.
And we'll never forget those graphic images from the Gulf Coast of desperately poor people abandoned by our government -- or the knowledge that we've not adequately helped those people get back on their feet.
In each case, African-Americans and immigrants find themselves in a common, disadvantaged position.
Immigrants had nothing to do with causing those problems. But they are increasingly part of the solution.
The coalition supporting earned legalization for immigrants -- such as business owners seeking low-cost labor and politicians seeking Latino votes -- do not tend to support other policies necessary to expand opportunity for all, like living wage laws, civil rights and fair labor enforcement or universal health care.
But immigrants, especially those who do the hardest, lowest paying work, understand the importance of those protections. So do African-Americans.
As a matter of conscience and a matter of progress, supporting the inclusion of undocumented immigrants as part of a broader agenda for opportunity makes sense for African-Americans -- and for America.
Alan Jenkins is executive director of The Opportunity Agenda, a communications, research and advocacy organization with the mission of building the national will to expand opportunity in America. His past positions include director of Human Rights at the Ford Foundation, assistant to the Solicitor General at the U.S. Department of Justice and associate counsel to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.