By Opal Tometi, BAJI Co-Director
Over the past months I’ve been sharing with black immigrant and African American communities about immigration reform. Here’s some of the analysis that we’ve developed over this last round of immigration reform:
The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act also known as the Senate’s Comprehensive immigration reform bill is a bill that would allocate over $40 billion dollars in military spending in the name of “border security”. As the daughter of Nigerian immigrants – who lived in Arizona and lived in the border region for several years I can honestly tell you, without a doubt is overkill. Over the next 10 years, the proposed bill will create one of the most militarized border zones in the world. 2nd only to the North and South Korea border region. Let’s not forget that more than 7 million U.S. Citizens, residents and families live in border communities from San Diego, California to Tucson, AZ to Brownsville, Texas. This massive militarization includes adding an additional 20,000 Border Patrol agents to the more than 21,000 that are currently deployed, resulting in a total over 40,000., At least 700 miles of border fencing ; the Deployment of the National Guard; 488 Fixed Remote Video Surveillance Systems; 232 Mobile Surveillance Systems; 4,425 Ground Sensors; 820 Thermal and Night Vision Goggles; 17 UH-1N Helicopters; 15 Blackhawk Helicopters; 30 marine vessels; 18 drones and much more. All of this comes with an initial price tag of 47 Billion dollars!
And THIS is the prerequisite upon which THEN undocumented migrants can begin the path to some semblance of legalization and possibly even citizenship. However, even this path WON’T apply to an estimated 4 to 6 million immigrants of the 11 million who are undocumented. And those who don’t qualify will be faced with harsh and dehumanizing immigration enforcement, due to the new mechanisms enshrined in this bill. Leaving those migrants who don’t qualify facing detention and deportation or leave them in undocumented status for the rest of their lives!
A NEW IMMIGRATION SYSTEM
The bill proposes a new type of immigration status called, Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status. And RPIs, after 10 years may have the opportunity to apply for lawful permanent residence (LPR) status. (Green card)
According to Peter Schey who’s been an immigration analyst and attorney for 20 years, undocumented immigrants who qualify for Registered Provisional Immigrant Status need to beware of a few things: (1) the indeterminate “Back-of-the-Line” requirement, (2) the Average Income requirement, (25% above poverty line) (3) the Continuous Employment requirement (can’t be unemployed more than 60 days), (4) the Payment of Taxes requirement, (5) the thirteen to twenty-year waiting period and “Triggers”, (6) fees and penalties for program participation (estimated $2000), (7) ineligibility for public benefits.
Some of these RPI eligibility requirements are going to be extraordinarily difficult for low-income immigrants to achieve. And particularly Black immigrants who already earn the lowest wages among all foreign born populations. And According to research done by the Economic Policy Institute black immigrants (i.e. those of us from Africa, the Caribbean) have the highest unemployment rates compared to all immigrant groups.
Now there are some under this bill who will qualify for expedited citizenship unlike others whose only option is the RPI status. Those groups are those who are DREAMAct eligible, those who qualify under Temporary Protected Status and some Farmworkers.
I’ll explain those 3 briefly. So, Temporary Protect Status is a status that is granted due to temporary conditions, such as ongoing armed conflict, environmental disasters, or other extraordinary and temporary conditions. Countries that are currently under TPS are El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and Syria. Another similar status, called Deferred Enforced Departure, and this is a type of designation that was granted to Liberians. And they too will be included in some sort of expedited path to citizenship. We are happy about this because is something we’ve been advocating for, for many many years now.
Also, similar to the DreamAct – youth who came to the US before the age of 16 will also have an expedited path to citizenship. To qualify for this accelerated program, an applicant must have earned a high-school diploma or GED, have completed at least two years of college or completed four years of military service, and have passed an English test and background checks, among other requirements. DREAMers may apply for citizenship as soon as they receive their green card.
One of the provisions of the Senate bill is to establish an Agricultural Worker Program that would include both undocumented agricultural workers currently residing in the US, as well as a temporary guest worker program for agricultural workers not residing in the US. I include this information because there are some black immigrants who also work in agriculture. Particularly Haitian communities in places like Florida, and other Caribbean nationals who reside In the Southeastern United States. The proposed Agricultural worker program for those already living in the US is called “Blue Card Status”. The earliest that a Blue Card Status holder would be able to apply for LPR would be 5 years after the enactment of the bill. They will have to pay a $400 fine and make sure all taxes are paid beginning with the date the applicant was first authorized to work under Blue Card Status: Pay all applicable processing fees including application fees, biometrics fees, fees for national security, criminal background and fraud checks, as well as fees to cover the administration of collecting such fees!
So, let’s now move on to enforcement of immigration. And here enforcement looks like criminalization of migrants. Provisions such as mandatory E-Verify which every employer will have to track the immigration status of all employees. There is currently an immigration detention quota, that in this bill will increase come 2014. This means more money for the private prison industry. There will also be additional resources allocated to capturing people who’ve overstayed their visas. We should know that the majority of African immigrants and many other immigrant groups who are undocumented – overstayed their visa. And will likely continue to do so as the RPI status is only applicable to those migrants in the US before December 31, 2011!
Generally speaking, we should always be wary about immigration enforcement measures because immigrants of all national backgrounds are highly impacted. And Black immigrants usually catch the most grief despite our low presence. Black immigrants are 10% of the foreign-born population, yet are five times more likely to be in detention and deportation proceedings. That is to say they are overrepresented in rates similar to trends of over incarceration of African Americans. To be clear though – in share numbers Latino immigrants are detained and deported at higher numbers.
There’s still a lot ore to be said about enforcement in this bill. I’ll write another post or share some links from allied groups who’ve conducted more analysis.
As it relates to future migration, the Senate Bill also makes substantial changes to the system. The new bill moves the immigration system from one that was originally about family, to one that would be about merit. Merit meaning one’s value is directly tied to the way in which they can benefit the US economy. This will be a point system based on a myriad of criteria. Such as language proficiency, nation of origin, educational attainment – although worth also dependent on which nation you earned your degree in. This new point system does a disservice to some, such as women, people who work in the informal economy or do unpaid work, relatives of U.S. citizens with insufficient formal education and employment history, older adults, and applicants from less-developed countries.
Also – related to future migration in the Senate’s immigration bill the Diversity Visa (aka Green Card Lottery) Program that was created by the Immigration Act of 1990 would be eliminated. It’s been under threat for many years. And the initial intent of the visa was to stimulate migration from parts of the world under-represented in the U.S. People who do not have close family or employment in the U.S. have very few opportunities for legal migration to the U.S. I highlight the Diversity Visa because almost half of the visas are awarded to those from various African Countries. Significant populations from Africa would not have been admitted to the U.S., had it not for the Diversity Visa Program. The numbers of family and employment visas for Africa are significantly lower than those given to other regions such as Europe, Asia and Latin America. For example in 2004, family and employment visas that were granted to Africans were a low 10.8% whereas Diversity Visa allocations were 40.6%.
All that being said and with the backlash about the Diversity Visa being cut in the bill, Senator Schumer decided to introduce an amendment to the Immigration Reform proposal. This amendment in essence established a new visa category to appease black immigrant groups (such as many of ours represented in the room today). The new visa is called E-6 and is connected to African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and Caribbean Basin Initiative – and are in essence going to be allocated to those who want to establish a business in the U.S. 10,600 visas are going to be given to each region. The likelihood that these will in fact be a viable option for those coming from developing nations is not high.
In this bill Sibling Visas and Adult Children visas (for those over the age of 30) would also be cut. This has been incredibly beneficial to migrant communities over the years and helped to reunite families who’ve been separated for years.
And one other thing we should know about this bill is that there is a provision that will ban visas to nations that don’t accept deportees.
THE HOUSE BILL & PIECEMEAL LEGISLATION
All this may actually end up being irrelevant in the near future. . It’s all left to be seen. The House introduced their version of the Immigration Reform bill over a month ago, and this bill is basically the exact same thing, without the border militarization pieces. The House also has decided to move forward with a piecemeal strategy that has some very draconian, counterproductive, immigration-related bills that are heavy on enforcement and according to many advocates and researchers will make life more grueling for migrant communities. I’ll briefly mention 3 here:
- Legal Workforce Act, H.R. 1772 was introduced in the U.S. House on April 26, 2013, by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX).1 The bill mandates the use of an electronic employment eligibility verification system (EEVS) by every employer in the U.S.
- Agricultural Guestworker Act, H.R. 1773 which would create a new agricultural guest worker program. Was introduced by House Judiciary committee Chairman Goodlatte (R-VA) it would in essence create more dysfunction in the immigration system. According to extensive analysis conducted by the organization Farmworker Justice, the bill would deprive US citizens and lawful permanent residents of job opportunities, lower farmworkers already poor wages and allow exploitative conditions for hundreds of thousands of new guest workers. The bill does things such as slash wage rates and withhold 10% of workers wages; eliminate travel-expense reimbursement to which workers are entitled; limit worker access to judicial relief and legal assistance, reduce guest worker’s minimum-work guarantee and minimize government oversight among other things.
- Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act, H.R. 2278 (aka the HATE Act in immigrant rights movement) The SAFE Act was introduced in June 2013 by the chair of the House of Representatives’ Immigration Subcommittee, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC). If enacted, the SAFE Act’s single-minded focus on immigration enforcement will increase detentions and deportations, and create an environment of rampant racial profiling and unconstitutional detentions without fixing the immigration sytem.
To learn more about our work and immigration reform visit us at www.blackalliance.org and also visit the national network we help to coordinate Black Immigration Network. www.backimmigration.net . You’ll find many important documents there and you can also learn about the national conference and strategy convening we’ll be having in February in Miami, FL.
By Terence Courtney, BAJI Southeast Organizer
More than a month ago, the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court passed a ruling to disenfranchise Dominicans of Haitian descent. With this move, thousands of families will lose their citizenship rights, and access to much needed social services. In many regards, this attack on Black Immigrants in the Dominican Republic mirrors the United States’ orientation to Black Immigrants and Immigrants of Color. Like the Dominican Republic, the US does not grant rights of citizenship to Immigrants whom it deems unworthy, and many states like Georgia deny access to social services to the undocumented – a violation of their Human Rights. Like the US, Dominican authorities use tactics of social control. There are raids in communities of Haitian descent. Families face separation because of racial profiling, detention, and deportation by Dominican authorities.
A common thread running through the experience of Immigrant/Migrants in the Dominican Republic and the US is the presence of an active Neoliberal agenda utilizing a racialized program to target its victims.
Over the past decade or more, the Dominican Republic has joined the US in moving in the direction of Neoliberalism. There have been cuts in social spending. There has been privatization of public institutions. Sales taxes have increased, and other taxes have been levied which disproportionately impact working class communities. Though all working families in the Dominican Republic are affected by the Neoliberal regime, the hardest hit are those of Haitian descent. They are targeted in particular because of the long standing xenophobic (or racist) attitudes elites in the Dominican Republic have towards Haiti. This anti-Haitian attitude gained immense power under dictator, Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 until 1961, and it still persists to this very day. Trujillo promoted a pogrom of ethnic cleansing where Haitians were intensely discriminated against, while immigration from whites was greatly encouraged. The same is also true for the US, where immigrants of color typically have a much harder time gaining a foothold than their White/European counterparts. This racist neoliberalism places Dominicans of Haitian descent in a position of hyper-exploitation by employers for profit, because these workers are rendered stateless, with few roads to improve their situation.
To further understand this situation we have to look at the forces currently in power in the Dominican Republic. The last few political administrations to run the government moved the island nation in this Neoliberal direction. This has been the work of the Dominican Party of Liberation or PLD. Like the Democratic Party of the US, the PLD was once seen as progressive or left, but more recently it has embraced the ideas promoted by the IMF and other global Neoliberal institutions. In exchange for loans, the IMF and World Bank work with local elites to create agreements that require privatization of public property and a shift of public wealth to private hands. On top of that, the economies of countries stuck in such agreements are burdened by onerous loan repayment obligations that siphon resources away from the human needs of the people.
We also see another similarity between the US and the Dominican Republic in the use of police and jailing to contain and detain stigmatized communities. Detention and deportations are a frequent occurrence in the both places. But this tactic is not used to expel immigrants/migrants en masse, for this would wreak havoc on the respective economies of both nations. Rather, detention and deportations are a useful tool to terrorize; to send the message to stay in one’s place.
BAJI believes that the solution to these problems lie in organizing people of African descent to oppose such measures. We have to urgently engage in a process of educating ourselves to see our connections and take action to dismantle injustice. Many of the actions by the Dominican Republic will result in migration to the US, where Black Immigrants will encounter many of the same racist attitudes and laws that are present in the Dominican Republic. Clearly the tentacles of white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchy are global, and the only way forward for black people is to build social movements that have a local, national, and international understanding of our situation. Let us go forward with this realization and fight for Just Immigration everywhere.
For more information please visit:
BAJI Co-Director, Opal Tometi featured on page 22 of AfroElle Magazine.
In this article she discusses the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and the immigrant rights movement.
For the full issue visit: AfroElle Magazine
Post by Kijani Tafari, BAJI Bay Area Organizer
One of the biggest obstacles for immigrant rights is a federal policy called “Secure communities” or S-comm. If we judge by the title this policy it seems like something we all want. But take a look at what it really does and determine for yourself. First hear my story:
Back when I was about 19, two friends and I were riding around late night in Cincinnati. Three young teenagers feeling the freedom of an extended curfew but frustrated by still being underage, we wandered the streets in my friend’s Ford Escort from gas station to gas station hoping we would run into some girls with the same dilemma as us. We had no weapons, no drugs; none of us had ever even been arrested. We were riding down the street, Chris in the drivers’ seat, and all of a sudden we see a Cincinnati Police cruiser tailing us.
Growing up in Cincinnati we knew all too well the conflict between police and black men ALWAYS come out on the losing end. A few more blocks down the road and as anticipated the lights flashed. Chris pulled the car over and waited for the officers to approach; one on the drivers’ side and one shining a bright light through the passengers’ side demanding that we keep our hands where they could see them. Somehow we got the feeling that our lives depended on how well we followed that command. The officer on the drivers’ side asked for Chris’s license and registration which he gladly provided. The officer then retreated to his cruiser leaving the officer on the passenger side still shining his light in our faces and us afraid to lift our hands to shield our eyes. After a few minutes the officer returned and asked for James’s (the other passenger) and my ID. Of course since neither of us was driving we knew that the officer didn’t stop us for a traffic violation. After reviewing our ID’s he instructed all three of us to get out of the car and stand on the sidewalk. The officer then commenced to looking through the car and our pockets. He opened the glove box, the center console, and popped the trunk; he found nothing. After brief questioning as to where we were headed and what we were up to, he told us we were free to go. We got back in the car and drove carefully home.
Why were we stopped? I’m convinced that it’s because we fit the profile of someone they perceived who looked like a criminal -Three young, Black, males. Due to the hard work of many freedom fighters in this country, though hard to prove, racial profiling in law enforcement is illegal and experiences like mine aren’t as common as they were 50 years ago and we have to admit; though things aren’t where they should be, we’ve come a long way from where we were.
“Secure Communities” or S-comm is a little known program passed in 2008 by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which says its purpose is to deport serious and violent criminals. Sounds reasonable, right? Well, the problem is Fingerprints of everyone arrested – not convicted – for ANY offense are automatically matched against FBI and ICE database. If the person is undocumented, ICE asks the local law enforcement to detain the person until ICE can make arrangements to take them into their custody. Local law enforcement does NOT have to cooperate with ICE.
Does S-comm make our communities any safer?
Hell no! I would even argue that it makes our communities more unsafe. Undocumented people who are afraid of arrest based on their assumed immigration status are very unlikely to contact police when they witness a crime. Many people who are assumed to have an undocumented immigration status are also taken advantage of because they cannot report crimes committed against them. And S-comm doesn’t really even affect the violent criminals. Most of the people arrested and deported due to S-comm are only minor offenders whose only offense is having trouble in the immigration process.
So What? I have an ID
Many people who are citizens may wonder how something like this affects them. It’s easy to be separated from this problem when we don’t look at the big picture. Research shows that people are being arrested and having their fingerprints run because the look like they could be an immigrant. Just what does an immigrant look like? I don’t know about you, but to me this sounds a lot like my experience with being stopped and searched because I looked like someone who would be a criminal. And after the years of struggle and sacrifice that makes that behavior by law enforcement unacceptable at least in the law books, S-comm threatens to throw us back 50 years further into the pit of racial discrimination that this nation struggles to rid itself from. If racial profiling is acceptable for those who look like immigrants, then why wouldn’t it be acceptable for those who look like drug dealers or people who look like burglars? And if we can allow something to throw progress back 50 years, what on earth would stop us from allowing something else to throw us back 50 more? We have to remind ourselves that Trayvon Martin, a 16 year old Black boy wearing a hoodie and armed with a bag of Skittles and a soda was gunned down because his killer perceived that he looked like someone who was capable of committing dangerous crime.
What Can I do?
Well if you live in Alameda county sign the online petition to end S-comm in this county
Connect to your local ACLU to find find out about efforts where you live. ACLU.org
For More Info
Here’s a link to the BAJI fact sheet on S-Comm: http://www.blackalliance.org/resources/secure-communities-flie/
And here’s an more info and a link to a video from ACLU: http://www.aclu.org/immigrants-rights/immigration-enforcement/secure-communities-s-comm
Democracy Now gives a insightful segment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xcs79Aff6To
Often times it’s easy for Americans to live our lives unaware of the global context that we are a part of. Many U.S born people will never know the impact that our government policies have globally and how we inadvertently contribute to the oppression of people worldwide. Americans have a bad habit of living life in the small bubble of local current affairs and are oblivious to global issues. A large part of our US centric views is because we have limited sources of media that expose us to anything on an international scale and the little international news we get is distorted to justify the imperialistic doctrine that our government presses on us.
As relates to Haiti, Many of us heard about the earthquake that decimated the whole nation but many of us don’t know that prior to the earthquake, Haiti was in dire need of aid. After the earthquake made an already adverse situation even worse, billions of dollars from all over the world were donated to help Haitians recover. Yet three years after the tragedy, Haiti is no better off. Many Americans go about their day to day and have no idea that these things are going on and the US government is playing key roles in many situations.
BAJI is teaming up with our ally, InSolidarity to send a delegation to Haiti to witness the struggle of our brothers and sisters firsthand and to see how we can join hands with them to fight for justice for all of us. In order to raise money to send our delegation, we have been hosting ”Raising Up for Haiti,” a series of fundraisers that feature Haitian activists, art, and culture. At our kickoff event we had Haitian activist and BAJI ally’ Pierre LaBossiere speak to us about the Haitian plight and the history of Haitian liberation struggle. We also watched the film: “Haiti – Where Did the Money Go” We also had the special treat to have the dynamic choir Vukani Mawethu come through and lift our spirits with freedom songs and inspirational music. Stay tuned for the next event announcement.To find out how you can help contact Kijani@blackalliance.org
Post by Terence Courtney, BAJI Southeast Organizer
As we witness the haggling between both political parties in Washington D.C. about their vision for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR), we increasingly see the need for US born and Immigrant people of African descent to be more visible and vocal on this issue. Often immigration policy makers do not envision the experience of Black people when they think about who’s affected. They do not take into account the particular experience of African descended immigrants who come from countries in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Africa itself. We are invisible to them. This is why we at BAJI believe that it is urgent that we work within the Black community to develop more internal organization that leads to the creation of a perspective on Immigration deeply rooted in our lived experiences. We must also create more movement infrastructure to significantly increase the effectiveness of alliances that cut across cultures.
This need was clearly exhibited in the April 10th Immigrant Rights March that took place in Atlanta, Georgia. The event itself was a muscular display by mostly the Latino community, with solidarity support from Atlanta’s labor community and a plethora of progressive non-profit organizations. March participants put forth the right messages. We demanded justice from the Obama administration and all law makers. No more detentions. No more deportations. A real and just pathway to legalization and citizenship, were the demands. However, even though black people were present, we were not there as an organized and distinctive body with our own agenda as it relates to the future of Immigration Reform. To significantly increase and maximize the power of such events, we need to have a parallel movement of African descended people fighting with the Latino community against the oppressive forces that subjugate us all. This is what we at BAJI are building towards in the south. In Atlanta and elsewhere we will be escalating our call to progressive black people to come together to dialogue about this issue, and take action. We need to develop a black agenda for Immigration. For too long our Latino sisters and brothers have had to carry a disproportionate amount of the weight for this struggle, and this must change if we are to truly have policies based on Social Justice, Economic Justice, Racial Equity, and Human Rights.
Places like Alabama have done quite a bit to advance alliance building across cultures to bolster the progressive fight against Arizona style anti-immigrant legislation. We want to help this go further. In the coming weeks while congress works out its plan, we will do the same through outreach, education and organizing. Building on the efforts by local institutions and organizers, we wish to intensify Black participation in this movement and do what we can to help amplify a Black perspective, while strengthening Black/Brown partnerships.
The south is so important to the future of Immigration reform because of the presence of majority of the US’s black community and as a gateway to the global south. Moreover, the south remains a place of intense white supremacy; leading the nation in the implementation of retrograde laws against Immigrant families. Our work in the south is just beginning. The road will be long and difficult. But we are committed to a struggle for justice and plan to work with people in the south to dismantle this growing tool of oppression.
by Gerald Lenoir, BAJI Executive Director
The recently released Senate immigration reform bill had a mix of carrot and stick approaches to providing the long-awaited path to citizenship for millions of undocumented people living under repressive conditions. While the bill has several good features, it weighs heavily toward very bad and very ugly provisions that will leave out millions of people and will continue the mass detentions and deportations that have become normalized in U.S. society.
First the good. There is a path to citizenship for many undocumented including many undocumented people, youth and farm workers, and temporary workers on employment visas. It is also positive that the families of green card holders (not just naturalized citizens, as before) are eligible for visas. Several of the provisions give more rights to immigrants in detention and there is a ban on racial profiling written into the bill.
Now the bad. The bill undermines the interests of families. It shifts immigration policy from a family-based system to an employment-based system (a so-called “merit-based system”). Currently 65% of immigrants admitted to this country come on family visas, 14% on a employment visa. Under the Senate bill, the siblings and adult children of immigrants will no longer be eligible for visas, eliminating 65,000 – 90,000 people. Over 300,000 immigrants who are here on temporary visas will not be eligible for permanent status and citizenship. The bill also eliminates the 50,000 Diversity Visas and allocates them for visas for high tech workers. African and Caribbean countries will be severely impacted by this change and by the change in the Family Visa program.
What’s more, the “path to citizenship” is unacceptably long—13 years on paper, probably more in reality. The requirements to qualify for the legalization program are burdensome, especially with the requirements that to be eligible, one must be regularly employed, comply with the provisions about “criminal activity” (for example, three misdemeanors and you’re out!), and pay back taxes, registration fees and fines. Additionally the ban on health care and other public benefits for those who qualify for the legalization is inhumane and shortsighted. Everyone should have access to the social safety net for the health and well being of our entire society.
Finally, the ugly. The bill ties the start of the legalization program to increased border militarization and a Department of Homeland Security certification that 90% of those attempting to cross our southern border have been captured. It allocates billions of dollars for border and interior enforcement. As a result, immigrants will continue to be criminalized, especially immigrants of color and the assumption remains that they are a threat. The fear mongering that has dominated the debate and has led to record deportations, the break up of families, deaths in the desert and on the high seas, the routine violations of human rights of migrants, and the wasting of billions of U.S. tax dollars will continue.
And the bill establishes a biometric identification card and a system called E-verify, a mandatory internet-based system to verify legal status and employment eligibility. These measures criminalize people who work and are the first steps in a potentially universal system of surveillance that is a threat to all of our civil liberties and privacy.
BAJI and its allies in the Black Immigration Network (BIN) will be organizing and advocating for a fairer, more just immigration bill. Very shortly, we will launch a campaign to get Senators to revise the bill to address some its glaring deficiencies. We hope you will join us in fighting for justice.
For a summary of the Senate bill, go to For a summary of the Senate bill, go to http://www.schumer.senate.gov/forms/immigration.pdf
After years of non-action and adverse action from differing political groups, persuasions and governmental entities, the issue of immigration almost immediately gained more serious national attention following the re-election of President Barack Obama.
While most people think primarily of Hispanics and Asians when the topic of immigration comes up, there are number of people of African descent that fall into the immigrant population as well.
“Blacks only make up around 10 percent of the immigrant population,” said Opal Tometi of the Black Alliance, citing United States Department of Immigration statistics. “Yet, Blacks are five times more likely to be detained or deported.”
Tometi spearheads a network of groups that address issues of immigration and other such rights for Blacks, and does so on a worldwide basis.
The immigration issue has seen many changes and developments over the years, but it has typically been driven by a key interest—American corporate and business needs.
Corporations have always sought to exploit cheap labor while American laborers have sought better wages as immigrants have challenged them for jobs.
Race and ethnicity have often been a bedrock component of American immigration, including the slave trade, the Chinese railroad workers, and Hispanics in agriculture. Laws tended to change once usefulness has been absorbed or because of challenges.
In 1790, Congress passed a law allowing the naturalization of free White persons, a racial requirement for American citizenship, which remained on the books until 1952. In 1907, the U.S. and Japan entered into a diplomatic agreement—not bound by law, yet adhered to—where Japan agreed to only emigrate educated or business-engaged Japanese, and Japan would also withhold skilled and unskilled laborers, along with those affected by mental or physical disabilities. President Theodore Roosevelt agreed to desegregate California schools in exchange. This reversed a practice where Asians in Northern California were educated separately from the larger student population much as Blacks were in the South.
The Immigration Act of 1917 added a literacy test and designated Asia as a barred zone, allowing only Japanese and Philippine immigrants. A barred zoned limits the number people allowed to come into the U.S. from a certain area.
Race was further embedded in immigration law in 1882 when Chinese were prevented from entry into the U.S. for decades by the Chinese Exclusion Act. The act was repealed in 1943 during World War II as the nation warred against the Germans and Japanese because, some historians say, Chinese were needed for military intelligence against Japan.
At one time, American immigration was limited to a certain number of people per year pursuant to federal law, and was considered as enforcement and aid to American culture, democracy, national defense and security.
It was not until the Immigration Act of 1965, which was encouraged and only made possible by the Civil Rights Movement and the ensuing Voting Rights Act of 1965, that race-based immigration admission was replaced by criteria that involved skills, profession or by family relation to U.S. citizens.
Currently, the White House and the Senate Bipartisan Committee on Immigration Reform have both drafted plans that include an eventual pathway to permanent citizenship for the thousands of people who entered the U.S. illegally, but they don’t yet agree on details. Both do, however, agree that applicants pay fines, taxes, wait in line behind current green-card applicants, and learn to speak English.
Many hardline Republicans, however, have been less willing to consider permanent citizenship.
The Bipartisan Policy Center, a quasi-outside governmental advisory group (a think tank that advocates for bipartisan solutions to government problems) has enlisted Republicans Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, to team with Democrats including Henry Cisneros, former HUD Secretary and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.
The committee is chaired by Rebecca Talent, former chief of staff to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). This bipartisan panel will also look at issues such as increased border enforcement, issuance of green cards for students that graduate with degrees in science and math in effort to draft further detailed proposals on which both parties can agree. It will forward recommendations to Congress and the president.
Black immigrants largely have not been mentioned in the immigration discussion, because the emphasis has been on immigrants of Hispanic and Asian heritage.
Many obvious and obscure issues surround immigration reform that include the rights of dreamers (the American-born children of illegal immigrants) and farm workers, who make up a large portion of the immigrant population. Other issues surround students who may or may not be in America legally, some who arrived with their parent or parents as babies or small children, some who came on their own as minors, and those who are in America on temporary status.
“The time for immigration reform is long overdue, and we applaud the president . . . for proposing a common sense, compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform plan that provides a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants who currently reside in the United States,” said American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten in a statement. “The president’s blueprint for reform and the U.S. Senate bipartisan framework shows an understanding that our nation has always been enriched by immigrants and strengthened by the diversity they bring. His proposal strengthens our borders, ensures (that) immigrant children can go to school without fear, keeps families together, and promotes safe and secure jobs for all workers. His continued support of the Dream Act gives dreamers the chance to dream by giving hard-working students who play by the rules an opportunity to pursue a college degree.”
While the subset of issues regarding immigrant children has many different facets, dreamers have a good outlook because most Americans are empathetic to children and the Dreamer cause. Some other groups have not received the same attention or empathy.
“The president’s immigration reform proposal contained no surprises,” said Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) Executive Director Gerald Lenoir in a published statement. “President Obama proposed a broad legalization program with few details. It is very positive that he includes agricultural workers in the legalization program, but it is disappointing that he made no mention of providing permanent legal status to the thousand (s) of immigrants who have Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforcement Departure Status. It is also a concern that the president wants undocumented immigrants who qualify to go to the back of the line, which means that the legalization process will take years and years. And those deemed criminals will be left out altogether.”
“The president also promised to continue down the path of more militarization of the border that has caused a record number of deaths in the desert,” he continued, “and more detentions and deportations that have split families apart and caused great hardships. This is unacceptable. The president’s proposal fails to address the root causes of migrants, like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which has allowed U.S. corporate farmers to dump low-cost corn and other agricultural products into the Mexican economy, forcing millions of Mexican farmers who cannot compete to leave their farms and migrate to the United States.”
“The Black Alliance for Just Immigration and its partner organizations in the Black Immigration Network (BIN) and the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights will fight for a fairer and more just immigration policy that prioritizes human rights above discriminatory enforcement policies and that places the highest premium on family reunification and a much broader legalization program,” Lenoir concluded.
Not all of the organizational members of the BIN totally agree with Lenoir and BAJI. For the sake of clarity and also in fairness, NAFTA was instituted under former President Bill Clinton, and although controversial and contested, many credit the agreement in part with aiding the country’s ability to recover from the economic downturn and near recession left by the former President Bush that Clinton succeeded.
Tometi is the network coordinator of the BIN steering committee and also works with Black Alliance.org. She believes that the growth of immigrant detention has been influenced by federal enforcement activities that historically target people of African descent.
“The fact is that Black immigrants make up 10 percent of the foreign-born population,” Tometi said.
“African immigrants are the most highly educated of all immigrant groups in the U.S., yet, Black migrants in general face unprecedented adversity and are often forgotten in the immigration debate.
What’s worse (is) Black immigrants who are out of status (do not have current green cards, work visas or other similar documentation) are being detained and overrepresented in immigration detention despite their small numbers in the larger population.
“This mirrors the similar type of overrepresentation of African Americans in the criminal justice system. The impact of racial profiling across the board impacts all Black communities regardless of where they were born. And this is very pronounced in a city like New York City where Jamaicans, Haitians and Dominicans have the highest deportation numbers. This ultimately means thousands of families being torn apart and fragmented communities.”
“The notion that we need to increase border security is rooted in fear,” Tometi continued. “As a person originally from Arizona who lived in Tucson for some years, I know that increased border patrol is not what is needed. There are several reports that show the increased militarization of the border has led to hundreds of deaths over the years as well as unprecedented levels of violence in border towns. People there feel as though the border patrol has invaded their towns. Residents are at risk of being profiled every day just because of how they look or their accent. Families who have had roots in these areas for generations are now being subjected to harassment because they all of a sudden don’t look ‘American.’
“Additionally, increased border security doesn’t just include the U.S./Mexico border,” Tometi continued.
“It includes any port of entry to the U.S. This means airports, all states that are along any coast, and the U.S./Canadian border. This type of escalation in enforcement has implications (for) U.S. Citizens and migrants alike. We see the Congressional Black Caucus as major advocates for just immigration reform.
CBC members are in tune with their members and know that comprehensive immigration reform will impact Black immigrant and African American constituencies.
“Members know about the types of injustice (that) Black immigrants face. It’s great to see the visionary leadership that is coming from CBC members such as Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Representative Karen Bass, Representative Hakeem Jeffries, and Representative John Conyers. They get the issues and have listened to members of the Black Immigration Network from throughout the country.”
“Our network is hopeful that President Obama will become more in touch with his own family’s story of migration and be found on the right side of history,” she continued further. “More than comprehensive immigration reform, I want just immigration reform. This means full citizenship for all of us. Whether (that means) prioritizing temporary status holders to keeping Black immigrant families (together), eliminating the practice of mass incarceration through enforcement, or promoting economic justice, sensible immigration reform is ultimately about a citizenship that goes beyond legal status. It reflects a people’s right to pursue the universal ideals of happiness and freedom, regardless of how people have arrived.”
Law enforcement organizations such as the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency and U.S. Customs say residents along the U.S./Mexican border face increased danger posed by the growing influx of drug trafficking. Drug cartels have become larger and typically employ illegal emigrants from Mexico and others to transport drugs. Further danger is prevalent because cartels also widely add to the steady army of pedestrian border crossings by either forcing or paying otherwise harmless border crossers (known as mules) to carry drugs.
Another illegal element is that of human traffickers. This practice is also common with Asian immigrants.
The United Farm Workers (UFW) has a large stake in any legislation that is proposed because it mostly, if not solely, represents the largely populated migrant farm workers in America, who comprise a major portion of immigrants, especially in California and the Southwestern states. UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez joined President Obama at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nev., on Jan. 29, as the president laid out his proposed plan for immigration reform.
“We take heart from three commitments firmly articulated by President Obama in his address,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “Now is the time to move swiftly forward on a new immigration process in reality and not just preachment, a process that brings long-overdue recognition to hard-working, tax-paying immigrants whose hard labor and sacrifice feed all of America and much of the world.”
“We are cheered by the president’s insistence on a clear and unequivocal road map to citizenship,” he continued. “We join President Obama in being encouraged by the bipartisan framework outlined by the senators. We also applaud the president’s vow that if Congress does not act in short order, he will move forward with his own bill based on the principles he has outlined, and insist on a vote.”
Bruce Mirken of the Greenlining Institute was soberly optimistic, but says “the devil is in the details. There are a few basic principles that we think are essential,” he said. “One of them is that there has to be a true path to citizenship. Another is that there really has to be an emphasis on family reunification. The rules now can force families to be separated for years before they can be reunited and safely in the country. We are very skeptical about the suggestions for a guest worker program, which basically sets up a group of second-class citizens—workers who are really dependent on the employers who brought them here and essentially have no legal bargaining power or legal right to organize,” said Mirken. “This is a situation that is bad for them and bad for workers in general.”
“There is a whole range of issues that need to be dealt with in a humane way,” Mirken concluded. “I think (that) it’s safe to say that there will be a segment of business people who will always try to get as much work out of people for as little as they can, and give workers as few rights as they can. They and their pet politicians will try to use this as they will other issues, anti-union efforts, etc., to try to tilt the playing fields in their direction. Just calling something comprehensive immigration reform doesn’t necessarily make it a good deal. It’s got to give people some dignity.”
Poetry by Things I’ll Never Say Contest Winner: Kemi Bello
An identity given to me
By a socio-political complex
Hell-bent on forcing me to
Reject my notion of self.Illegal is illegal, they said –
More than my age
More than my gender/sexuality
More than my humanity –
I was now this thing, an ‘it’
No longer a human being.I stay silent.
Then, I was a dreamer
An identity that built
A collective consciousness
And finally made me
Part of an ‘us.’
I was put on a giddy high
Of dreams deferred
Of “I have a dream”
Of a rainbow of caps & gowns.
For we are the dreamers,
The mighty, mighty dreamers.
Never mind those whose dreams
We are not acknowledging because
They do not match our own.
Never mind those who will not make it
Far enough to don a cap and gown.
Suddenly, a proclamation:
“But we are all dreamers,”
documented or undocumented.
I stay silent.
Then I was undocumented
An identity borne of the realization
That I am more than just legislation,
That this new piece of paper
Would not magically heal the wounds of the struggle
Wrought by lack of papers to begin with,
That to drive home the assertion that
No human being is illegal,
We must first stop referring to ourselves as such,
That dreams without concrete, effective action and empowerment
Would not serve my growth.
Again, it was said:
“But we are all undocumented,”
united in this struggle.
I stay silent.
Then I became unafraid,
About my immigration status,
About refusing to bow down
to rhetoric & political punting,
about choosing a movement over a campaign,
about acknowledging the full, wide, deep and beautiful
spectrum of the undocumented experience,
and about reclaiming my voice and
demanding that it be the only vehicle
through which my story is told.
This time though,
We were not “all unafraid.”
Instead, I was being divisive,
I was being stubborn,
I was selfish, petulant,
I was Radical.
Once again labeled an “other”
In the delicate world of “Us”
I called home.
I stay silent.
At the end of the day,
Though our many struggles and experiences intersect,
And you say we are all dreamers,
My dream of existence in a society
That still views me as illegal, as an it,
Has yet to come true.
You say we are all undocumented,
Yet I am the one who has to justify,
In a court of law,
The right to call the dirt I walk on
And the air I breathe
Can I not claim an identity of my own,
Without it being co-opted, rebranded,
Misinterpreted and censored
by those who are not affected?
Those who support, understand,
Sympathize, fight alongside,
But who are not undocumented?
If you truly support me,
You would understand
the importance of my words,
for they are one of the few weapons I own.
If you truly support me,
You would understand,
In a world in which
I am constantly told I have no rights,
To have an identity to call my own.
If you truly support me,
You would understand that
My struggle is not about you.
If you truly support me,
You would understand that
We both lose
When I remain silent.
Post by Tia Oso, BAJI Arizona Organizer
Around a table of African immigrants in Las Vegas, preparing for President Obama’s January 29th speech on Comprehensive Immigration Reform, the questions flew. What will President Obama do for us? Will Africa be acknowledged? We are so different, how can we come together on one issue? Students, business owners and professionals in medicine and other fields voiced their concerns from personal experience. After telling stories and voicing strong opinions, we decided on a common thread. We want immigration reform that simplifies the process of immigration for our families and encourages success. We want policy reform that reflects the interests of Black immigrants. We want President Obama to support our American dream.
As we lined up to enter the gymnasium to hear the speech, some of us dressed professionally, some in fine African attire with prints from Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and Gabon. We got looks and of admiration, smiles and handshakes. One of the members of the Cameroon American Council delegation remarked “we are the only Africans here”.
“Stars and Stripes Forever” and other patriotic marching songs played as the President’s arrival became imminent. The crowd cheered enthusiastically when Congressman Steve Horsford (D-Nevada) appeared. Horsford is the first person of color to represent Nevada in Congress, and he met with several members of Nevada’s immigrant community the evening before the speech. The assembled group recited the pledge and sang the National Anthem with enthusiasm. It caused me to seriously ponder, in light of the subject of the meeting, when will these lofty words “liberty and justice for all…land of the free” ring true for ALL Americans?
As President Obama began his remarks, he laid the groundwork framing the U.S. as a “nation of immigrants” with various stories of hard fought journeys from Mexico, Ireland, Italy and Germany, even the West Indies. Notably absent, however, was any mention of any of the 54 countries in Africa. In telling the story of immigrants “doing their part to build this country by hand” while facing “hardship, ridicule and racism” there was no reference to the FREE labor of African slaves brought the U.S. in chains to do that building. It is the free labor of African slaves and low wages during the industrial revolution that propelled America’s economy to be the strongest in the world. To flat out omit the truth of this history and the reality of the contribution that millions of Black immigrants make today is an insult. Without the determination of President Obama’s father, an immigrant from Kenya, pursuing a life in the U.S and the hard fought battles of African-Americans breaking the chains of slavery and asserting their civil rights, President Obama would not be President today. I cannot accept the absence of our forefather’s dreams in a speech before the entire nation in this pivotal moment in history. How can Obama say that we must “remember where we come from” and deliver a speech that denies his own roots! Perhaps, he should remind himself of his own reflections and musings on race and its implications on the history of this nation and his life in Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (1995).
Many African immigrants shared my sentiment of disappointment in the President’s remark, demanding “Don’t forget about Africa” as he shook hands on his way out of the hall. In the fight for immigrant rights and social and economic justice, this is just the beginning. Many of us, individually, in communities and organizations have been forced to face the reality of America’s “broken immigration system” for generations. Through bureaucracy, quotas, thousands of dollars spent, blood, sweat and tears to make a better life for ourselves and our families, we have pressed on, determined to succeed. How can President Obama champion the story of Mexican American “dreamers”, while simultaneously ignoring the dreams of his own father? Black immigrants have also endured punitive enforcement measures, I.C.E home invasions and a President, whom many would call brother, touting record deportations as a success as families are torn apart and dreams are destroyed. As President Obama has rolled out a platform of principles that echo right-wing priorities for increased enforcement and border militarizations, penalties and criminalization of migrants and a narrow path to citizenship, we must not be pacified. I call on fellow organizers, activists and freedom fighters to hold President Obama and the United States accountable, once again, to the ideals this country is supposed to be founded upon. We cannot afford to remain silent and our community can no longer wait for its dreams