Black leaders in Tucson called for comprehensive immigration reform that's humane during a news conference Thursday.

"Immigration is not a political issue, said Clarence Boykins, president of the Tucson Southern Arizona Black Chamber of Commerce, "but we've made it one."

The Senate is debating an immigration-reform bill that would increase border security and provide a path to legal status to the 11 million people estimated to be in the country illegally.

Otis Brown, pastor of Siloam Freewill Church in Tucson, said he understands the need for security, "but primarily we need to welcome people, put them on a process," he said.

"How neat would that be, for them to be on a structured path to citizenship?" he asked a small crowd that gathered at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers office for the news conference. "No more hiding, no more fear, no more looking over your shoulder."

Members of the United States Commission on Civil Rights have said comprehensive immigration reform will have a negative impact on black men in lower-skilled jobs.

"Illegal immigrants and black males compete against one another in the low-skilled labor market," Peter Kirsanow, one of eight members of the commission, said during a Senate committee hearing in April. "Blacks often lose out in that competition."

But community and business leaders disagreed.

Immigration reform "will provide more jobs for us," said Sam Newsome, president of the Southern Arizona A. Philip Randolph Institute, a coalition of black trade unionists dedicated to racial equality and economic justice.

In his more than 30 years in construction, Newsome said, he saw too many workers without legal status give kickbacks to their employer. "They were buying a job," he said.

"All we want and all they want, I believe, is an opportunity to have a good job," Boykins said.

Contact reporter Perla Trevizo at or at 573-4213. On Twitter: @Perla_Trevizo