The Path to Citizenship for Black Immigrant—and African Americans

Originally published by NNPA on April 17, 2013

by Gerald Lenoir    

On March 20, hundreds of Africans, Afro-Caribbeans, Afro-Latinos and African Americans rallied in

Washington, DC under the slogan, “Black Communities for Immigration Justice.”  Led by the Black Immigration Network, Churches United to Save and Heal and The Black Institute, the main demands to Congress included a fair path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and those with temporary visas as well as an end to racial profiling and the criminalization of immigrants, especially black and brown immigrants.  As an African American leading an immigrant rights organization, I have been reflecting on how interlinked the struggles of African Americans and black immigrants are.  If advocates are successful in winning their demands, then black immigrants and other immigrants of color are at high risk of being integrated into a well-established system of second-class citizenship based largely on race.

Enslaved Africans were the first undocumented people to be criminalized.  The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act mandated that law enforcement agents arrest and “deport” runaway slaves back to their southern plantations.  In 1857, the Supreme Court ruled in the Dred Scott Decision that black people were not citizens and “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

It took mass resistance by enslaved Africans, a civil war, the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, and passage of three Constitutional amendments—the Thirteenth Amendment (abolishing slavery), Fourteen Amendment (granting citizenship) and Fifteenth Amendment (granting voting rights)—before African Americans were given full citizenship—on paper.  After the failure of Reconstruction, the pernicious system of Jim Crow segregation was established and the aspirations of the newly freed Negro were subverted.  The Civil Rights and Black Power Movements of the mid-20th Century toppled Jim Crow and brought a measure of democracy to Black America.

But as author Michelle Alexander points out in her book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” mass incarceration of African Americans is the new system of social control replacing segregation.  The prison population has surged by 45% in the last 20 years, with the disproportionate targeting of African Americans in the “War on Drugs”.  According to Census data, African Americans are 13.6% of the population, yet over 40% of the prison population.  As a result, millions of African Americans have lost their voting rights and are routinely discriminated against in housing, employment, education and public benefits.  Second class citizenship has been normalized—all in the name of ‘Law and Order.”

Meanwhile, the fastest growing segment of the black population is immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean.  Their struggle for citizenship is being subverted by an elitist political system, a discriminatory social order and a racist ideology that defines them as “The Other.”  In “The Immigration Crucible: Transforming Race, Nation, and the Limits of Law”, Jamaican author Philip Kretsedemas, documents the racial profiling of black immigrants.  His research shows that local law enforcement officers arrest and turn them over to immigration officials at a rate that is five times their representation in the undocumented population.  Kretsedemas also points out that second generation immigrants of color are very likely to be criminalized.

“Illegal immigration” is being used by right wing ideologues to justify voter suppression.  With no proof of widespread voter fraud, many Republican-controlled states are passing laws to mandate identification for voting, raising the false specter of non-citizens voting en masse.  The result is the mass disenfranchisement of black and Latino citizens who do not have proof of where they were born.

During this latest round of debate around immigration reform, the frameworks set out by President Obama and the Senate call for a difficult and extended period of time for the “path to citizenship” and continued criminalization of undocumented immigrants.  Already, I have begun to look beyond the upcoming legislative battle to think about how we can forge a social movement strong enough to win full citizenship, full employment and full human rights for African Americans, black immigrants and all oppressed peoples.

If we can come together in a mass movement for human rights, we can stop the mass incarceration of black and brown citizens and immigrants.  We can end the voter suppression tactics and the disenfranchisement of those who are incarcerated and formerly incarcerated.  We can successfully confront the blatant employment discrimination faced by African Americans and the super-exploitation faced by black immigrants and other immigrants of color.  And we can win full citizenship for all black people and all people of color.  Can we meet this historic 21st century challenge? Yes, we can and we must.


Gerald Lenoir is the Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and a steering committee member of the Black Immigration Network.  He can be reached at


Speaking Truth to Power – BAJI Arizona focusses on education and movement building

Blog post by Tia Oso, BAJI Arizona Organizer

BAJI Phoenix has focused this fall on educating a wide variety of populations on the importance of solidarity in the  journey for migrant justice and cross-racial alliance building for successful progressive movements. Arizona Organizer, Tia Oso, was featured as a panelist in the Arizona State University’s Healing Racism Community Dialogue Race and the Border: At the Intersection of Fear, Immigration and Justice on October 9, 2012. Tia took the opportunity to elevate the conversation beyond personal attitudes about race, to systemic effects of racism, including the use of racial profiling in laws like SB1070 and the effective shutout of Black men from the U.S. workforce due to felonies in their backgrounds. White Supremacy, global capitalism and systemic exploitation must enter the discourse to have an accurate picture of the forces behind anti-immigrant laws, policies and attitudes. The experience of African-Americans in the U.S. is extremely pertinent and interconnected with that of immigrants of color, especially when it comes to jobs and the criminal justice system. Recognizing this fact, BAJI continues to lift this perspective in critical conversations, such as the ACLU Immigrant Rights Project conference, which took place October 10th, 2012 in Oakland, CA. Too often overlooked in migrant justice advocacy is the story of Black immigrants, as well as the importance of engaging African-Americans in progressive movement building.

As a participant in the U.S. Human Rights Network Southwest Regional Conference and Human Rights training, discussion focused on using the United Nations Convention to Eliminate all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) to bring international attention to the critical condition of people of color in the United States. Attended by several grassroots organizations and individual activists, it was sobering to hear the stories of how systemic racism continues to devastate people’s lives in a myriad of ways.  Even those who seek refuge and asylum in the United States are faced with challenges brought by xenophobia and discrimination. Arizona receives a number of refugees through the United States Refugee resettlement program. At the Faith Based Summit on refugee resettlement on November 1, 2012, faith based institutions representing many belief systems, non-profit agencies, government agencies and advocates came together to discuss the unique challenges and the charge of providing shelter, safety and tools for navigating life in the U.S. to immigrants forced from their home countries. BAJI’s perspective on identifying and naming the unique challenges faced by Black immigrants was valued and necessary.

Increasingly, with the shifting demographics and the clearly multi-racial and increasingly progressive leadership shown possible in the recent National election, it is more important than ever that we use critical analysis and a multi-level approach to answering the challenges to economic and social justice. Educating the community is a key-part of the process and BAJI Arizona will work with the Greater Phoenix Urban League to offer a series of political education forums beginning in December 2012. The series is aimed at providing in-depth perspective and encouraging dialogue around issues affecting communities of color. Through these and other initiatives, BAJI Arizona is dedicated to being a voice for truth and real change.

Black Foreign-Born Workers Have Highest Jobless Rate

Original post by James Parks for AFL-CIO Blog

A new study dispels the myth that immigrant workers are taking good-paying jobs away from American-born workers. According to “The Low Wages of Black Immigrants,” released last week by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), black workers, whether they were born in the United States or in a foreign country, have the highest unemployment rate, period.

In the United States, the black unemployment rate in July was 15.9 percent, compared with an overall rate of 9.1 percent. The 12.4 percent jobless rate among black immigrant workers last year was slightly higher than for Hispanic immigrants (11.3 percent) and significantly higher than for white (7.4 percent) and Asian immigrants (7.3 percent).

At the same time, black workers, whether native-born or immigrant, earn significantly less than white workers, the report shows. This is especially true for men. U.S.-born black men earn 19.1 percent less than white men while black immigrant men from English-speaking Caribbean countries earn 20.7 percent less. Haitian men (33.8 percent less) and African men (34.7 percent less) do substantially worse than any other group.

All groups of black women have lower weekly wages than similar U.S.-born white women, but the size of the wage gaps is smaller for women than it is for men.

The report’s co-authors, Patrick Mason, economics professor at Florida State University, and Algernon Austin, director of EPI’s Race, Ethnicity and the Economy program, point out that it’s not a matter of education that cretaes the job and wage gap for blacks. In 2008, more than one-third of African immigrants (36.6 percent) had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 29.5 percent of whites. A higher percentage of native-born blacks (32 percent) had high school education than whites (30 percent), according to the study.

The EPI study follows a U.S. Labor Department report released last month that shows African Americans lag behind the rest of the nation in the slow economic recovery. Other studies show that blacks are disproportionately hurt by cuts in public employment and attacks on public workers.

Mason and Austin said their study makes it clear that:

because this disadvantage in the labor market affects both U.S.- and foreign-born blacks, it points to a problem that stems from race and not cultural background.

Read the full report, “The Low Wages of Black Immigrants,” here.

Watch Full Episode: Mexico & Peru: The Black Grandma in the Closet

May 17, 2011   //   african history, black in latin america, Blog, mexico, pbs, peru  
Originally published in PBS Black in Latin America website

In Mexico and Peru Professor Gates explores the almost unknown history of the significant numbers of black people—the two countries together received far more slaves than did the United States —brought to these countries as early as the 16th and 17th centuries, and the worlds of culture that their descendants have created in Vera Cruz on the Gulf of Mexico, the Costa Chica region on the Pacific, and in and around Lima, Peru. Watch full episode.

Watch the full episode. See more Black in Latin America.