Going Big in our Movement for Migrant Justice

Sep 16, 2014   //   Blog, ice, identity, immigration, migrants, obama, race, racial justice  

Post by Tia Oso, National Coordinator for the Black Immigration Network and BAJI Arizona Organizer 

President Obama’s recently announced delay in granting Administrative Relief to undocumented migrants in the U.S. has sent many in the migrant rights movement up in arms. His announcement comes just months after he promised “a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress” through Executive Action. After promising decisive action on immigration reform for 8 years, immigration policy reform has again been reduced to a political hot potato. A talking point. A litmus test for the liberal or conservative credentials of a political candidate, and little else. blacks4cir2

This is not a new development, indeed, the very creation of the immigration “problem” through the vilification and categorizing of migrants as an underclass and “other” is a mechanism for conservative movement building. The roots of anti-immigrant activism, organized and funded by Jon Tanton and the Koch brothers and allied with White Nationalists to rally a grassroots conservative base, now catered to by the GOP and Tea Party that has deadlocked the House of Representatives from passing any type of immigration reform legislation. Fueled by hate-filled political fear mongering, the anti-immigrant movement galvanizes its base of supporters to staunchly oppose any humane immigration policy and to pass punitive laws such as SB1070 and launch conservative political careers. Indeed, in the Arizona Republican primary for Governor, candidates worked to outpace one another in their zeal to appear tough on “illegals” and appeal to the conservative base.

Progressives, in turn, have been slow to respond. In fact, as we see with President Obama’s record number of deportations and policies such as S-Comm emphasizing enforcement, politicians on the left are complicit in building a machinery that further militarized the border and created “crimmigration”, mounting no real opposition or alternative to the right wing maneuvering of public opinion and resources, and leaving families broken and devastated in the balance.

The grassroots migrant rights movement is fractured and vulnerable to these political games. Instead of a broad based, mult-ethnic coalition fighting for real reform to provide social and economic justice, groups organize in silos and play a game of exclusionary politics. In the negotiations for the bi-partisan Senate bill on immigration passed in 2013, for example “criminal immigrants” were quickly thrown under the bus as ineligible for a pathway to citizenship and the diversity visa that enables many African immigrants to migrate to the US was summarily eliminated. This is ironic, given that it was a multiracial coalition that successfully elected President Obama to the White House in his two historic elections and could wield this considerable power and influence with an inclusive, intersectional agenda.

In the waiting game for executive action, progressive groups should be looking for ways to broaden who is covered in Administrative Relief and push President Obama to truly “Go Big” by making a big ask that will benefit the maximum number of the 11 million undocumented migrants in the U.S. The Black Immigration Network has created a list of priorities for Administrative Relief for Black communities that outline what this looks like for black immigrants. Without decisive, broad action, there is the very real prospect that any relief from enforcement granted to certain segments of the population will further expose those outside of eligibility to increased scrutiny and aggressive enforcement measures.

This presents a very real problem, especially for immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean. Families living in fear, in the shadows and margins of society, are subject to exploitation and oppression. Of particular concern for Black immigrants is the scrutiny of racial and religious profiling by the police, with many departments having the authority to work in cooperation with ICE to detain immigrants due to their non-Citizen status. This affects Black American communities as well; workers fearful of deportation won’t speak out about unpaid wages or unsafe workplaces, lowering wages and labor standards for everyone.

Only Congress can control the categories of immigration and funding of the agencies involved. However, the President may act to modify enforcement priorities, change certain regulations and create programs. President Obama could use his executive authority to create enforcement reform, affirmative relief from deportation, and modify immigration adjudications. By supporting an end to all deportations and adding program adjustments such as Family Reunification Parole for Haitian American Families to their lists of demands, migrant rights groups can signal to the President that relief is not just about garnering votes of one demographic over another, but about making real change that will bring relief to all migrant families. It is time for progressive groups to unite and make big asks in the fight for justice.

The Struggle Against Mass Criminalization

Sep 9, 2014   //   Blog, jim crow, mass criminalization, race, racial justice  

Post by Devonté Jackson, BAJI Bay Area Organizer

The Black Alliance for Just Immigration is working in coalition with communities across the Bay who’ve developed study/action circles on Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Our Bay Area New Jim Crow Study/ Action Coalition is composed of Alameda and Contra Costa County residents primarily involved in activist and faith communities. All members of the coalition are deeply committed to addressing core issues that have created and bolstered today’s system of mass criminalization which has sustained and reinforced racial caste in the U.S., making our struggle one against the New Jim Crow.

jcOur coalition moves with the understanding that in order to dismantle the system of mass criminalization, we must first deeply understand the problem. This is why we have committed several months to studying and creating conversation around Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. She argues, “that mass incarceration is, metaphorically, the New Jim Crow and that all those who care about social justice should fully commit themselves to dismantling this new racial caste system” (pg 11). We understand that the White  Supremacist-Patriarchal-Heterosexist U.S. establishment continues to dehumanize and commit egregious violence against people of color, queer and trans folks, women, and other marginalized communities within the U.S. and across the globe in systematic, and often militaristic ways. Our coalition is committed to not be bystanders in this struggle against the new system of mass criminalization.

Critical movement building is our approach in dismantling mass criminalization. We believe this requires; deep understanding of the problem, organizing in ways that are conducive to addressing foundational issues, learning from movements of the past, and moving towards societal change. We acknowledge that the solution to dismantling the system of mass criminalization is complex and requires a lot of work. We do not believe that there is one approach or answer to the issue of mass criminalization but our priority is to work towards solutions with community. With this approach, our coalition has come to a consensus in committing ourselves to the philosophy and practice of nonviolence. Additionally, we have organized a working group on non-violent direct action and other groups charged with developing local campaigns in Alameda and Contra Costa County that are designed to fit into the national struggle against mass criminalization.

Michelle Alexander argues, “that nothing short of a major social movement can successfully dismantle the new caste system. Meaningful reforms can be achieved without such a movement, but unless the public consensus supporting the current system is completely overturned, the basic structure of the new caste system will remain intact” (18). Our work is to movement build towards a society that values the humanity of all people, no matter race, gender, sexuality, class background, country of origin, etc. And our coalition aims to continue and to intensify the struggle to accomplish this vision.

Endorsed by New Jim Crow Study/Action Steering Committee:

Devonté Jackson
Regine Neptune
Thorn Coyle
Rickey Sammuel
Gerald Lenoir
John Seargent

#BlackLivesMatter Enough to Organize

Aug 30, 2014   //   baji, black history, Blog, civil rights, racial justice  

Post by BAJI New York City Organizer Benjamin Ndugga-Kabuye

It is important for people to understand that on a basic level the imagery of Ferguson does not reflect the reality of Ferguson. We are looking, from our varied distances, at a trick mirror positioned by a media complicit in the echoing violence of of Kajieme Powell’s murder. Media complicity is not just in conservative outlets like Fox News who rhetorically rehearse the violent sentiment that fired, at the very least, six shots into Michael Brown’s body but also in liberal and alternative media that cannot grapple with antiblackness that is as American as enslavement. Almost as if this violence is due to a new police militarization, or outdated training, as opposed to a much more mundane antiblackness. That is to say, what we have always known; that Black bodies cause anxiety that can only be released by violence. Despite reflecting this anxiety in their coverage news outlets cannot analyze this unique relationship Black people have with an antiblack world. So the distorted media narratives on public demonstrations in Ferguson even when framed in empathy are saturated with worries about lawlessness and disorder.

why-black-lives-matterThe varied responses Black communities or individuals have to brutality is not the concern of this writer. The need to defend certain actions misses James Baldwin’s perspective on looting, Martin Luther King Jr.’s on riots, or local voices on this present moment. What these words seek to highlight is the well-organized, highly disciplined work happening locally and nationally. Though leadership does not reflect past movements you are not seeing a leaderless movement. There is no disapproval of spontaneity here instead a call to focus on what you are actually seeing, a masterfully calculated strategy. BAJI staff along with dozens from across the country have just been welcomed into St. Louis by the spiritually affirming arms of Saint John’s United Church of Christ led by Pastor Starsky Wilson. The gathering in that building quickly led to an outlined agenda, programming, and the clear grounding framework around the valuing of all Black lives not just the outsized male figures that crowd out broader conversation and sadly, political imagination.

What has become a national call started as the simple phrasing of a disputed truth that #BlackLivesMatter. Answers came from across the country joining the US Human Rights Network, Crunk Feminist Collective, and National Organization for Women and many others all responding to a gesture into and against the chaos of genocidal policing attacking all Black bodies.

From the very beginning intentional links between the 1960s Freedom Rides and the #BlackLivesMatter Ride to St. Louis were evident in the national reach and the relationship building with frontline Ferguson organizers.

The messaging for this campaign was crafted precisely to create a banner, “under which Black people can unite to end state sanctioned violence both in St. Louis, but also across the United States of America.” But local endorsements from the Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE) and Organizations for Black Struggle (OBS) firmly plant this work in Midwest soil. With international eyes now shifted to a city some say the Black Power Movement passed, what the past has forgotten the present names and where Ferguson goes so goes the post-civil rights nation.

#BlackLivesMatter is happening on multiple levels including several online locations with information about the direction of this work. We are now in an appropriate space to reflect on how a tech savvy generation born of and in the information age has matured into political work. Who will acknowledge their genius?

 

#BlackLivesMatter #BLMride

 

For live tweets from the ground follow @BAJItweet and @Blklivesmatter

BLACK IMMIGRANTS AND AFRICAN AMERICANS DEMAND END TO POLICE BRUTALITY AND CRIMINALIZATION OF BLACK COMMUNITIES

Aug 26, 2014   //   About BAJI, black history, Blog  

 BLACK IMMIGRANTS AND AFRICAN AMERICANS DEMAND END TO POLICE BRUTALITY AND CRIMINALIZATION OF BLACK COMMUNITIES 

Calls for local and national effort to address racial justice and immigrant rights issues as they acutely impact all black communities 

 

Current practices of institutional racism have historic roots in the enslavement of black Africans. Black communities in the U.S. whether foreign or native born, are subject to brutality and profiling under a system of “repressive enforcement structures” including the police, FBI, Homeland Security, and CIA resulting in mass criminalization. We have seen the extra-judicial killing of both African-American and black immigrant women and men at the hands of police, such as Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Mohamed Bey, Rekia Boyd, Amadou Diallo, Tarika Wilson and Kimani Grey. While all violence is devastating to our communities, the rampant abuse of state power that protects law enforcement from accountability and blame for the deaths of these men and women erases their very humanity. Our communities demand an end to the government sanctioned violence that is police brutality. And an end to law enforcement practices and policies that encourage and incentivize profiling, and its deadly results, with impunity.

We say enough. Communities across the nation can no longer sit idly by while black families suffer with little due process or recourse. We demand justice for Mike Brown and all families who’ve lost a family member at the hands of law enforcement, security personnel or vigilantes. We must, as a society, take responsibility for putting an end to this systemic abuse of power.

We know that our communities are not facing criminalization and brutalization within a vacuum. A review of the blatant racial inequity in the Ferguson community epitomizes the context that makes our communities incredibly vulnerable. At the Black Alliance for Just immigration we look at criminalization of our communities as being the main crime. A crime that leaves us impoverished, brutalized, separated and sadly, at times, dead.

Watch the video now

The Black Alliance for Just Immigration issues the following 4 demands, for all black communities:

 1. Stop the criminalization of black communities. We want an end to punitive measures of control as a means to improving social ills blamed on the myth of Black criminality. We call for an end to: the practice of incarceration, detention and deportation, the War on Drugs and other public initiatives that couple militarization and violent enforcement targeting black communities, racial and religious profiling and other policies and practices that disproportionately target our communities. All of which results in nearly half of the U.S. prison population being black.

2. Invest Public Resources into Economic Opportunities for Black immigrants and African-Americans. Address the root causes of unemployment and income inequality in the African-American community: attacks on labor unions, poor funding for education and discrimination on the job. Black immigrants, just like African Americans, have the highest unemployment, lowest wages and experience the most workplace discrimination of any foreign born community. A concrete solution would be to invest direct funds towards economic and educational infrastructures to create safe, thriving communities.

3. Reunite families. Many Black immigrant families are separated by deportation, unjust profiling in law enforcement practices and also by discriminatory immigration practices. Polices should emphasize family unity, such as a family reunification parole program for Haitian-American families: Reunite Haitian American Families. Expedite the reunification of 110,000 Haitian families who already have visas to be reunited with loved ones, but are on waiting lists, while similar programs exist for other nations of origin.

4. Legalization for all who reside in the U.S. including the 500,000 undocumented black immigrantsand re-enfranchise those who’ve been deemed unworthy and ineligible for legal status due to criminal convictions.

As a community who often dwell together, fellowship at similar houses of worship, and find ourselves residing in the same neighborhoods it is imperative that our solutions are reflective of our complex identities and lived experiences with a unifying strength for our kinship of humanity. We know that all black lives matter and that when one community is under attack we in fact all are. Immigrant rights are a racial justice issue and racial justice is an immigrant rights issue. Our lives are intertwined and our fights must be so as well. A multiracial democracy that works for all requires we bring our communities together – not just black immigrants and African-Americans, but all communities. However, we must be vigilant to ensure that the most acutely impacted among us are protected and that we measure our progress from the advancement of those most oppressed, until the most marginalized are uplifted.

 

Let’s fight together for the world we all deserve.

 

Ain’t this your son? | Coalitions for Resistance

Aug 12, 2014   //   african american, Blog, race, racial justice  

Post by Benjamin Ndugga-Kabuye, BAJI New York City Organizer

On Saturday, August 9th a police officer killed a black boy whose body was irreverently displayed for the world to see in the middle of the street. The police narrative of Michael Brown’s murder has framed national headlines but, locally, Lesley Mcspadden found out about the death of her child from the cell phone of a neighbor asking, “ain’t this your son?”. The violence of that moment is even worse because of how common it is. Already we hear echoes of Trayvon, Islan Nettles, or the breathless cries of Eric Garner in Staten Island muffled under untold pairs of police hands.
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How often this violence visits African-Americans makes you wonder if Black citizenship is even possible. Yet second-class citizenship or immigrant identities are not adequate umbrellas for Black immigrants to stand in solidarity with African-Americans. It is blackness not legal status that is “magnetizing bullets” in Ferguson, Missouri. So coalition against antiblackness must follow a different path than traditional racial or immigrant discussions. If we are going to create a sustained movement between Black immigrants and African-Americans we must discuss why Black bodies inspire fear and violence from the rest of the world. This includes all Black bodies lest we forget “the death scenes of Black women labeled as criminal… Shantel Davis, Rekia Boyd, Shereese Francis, Sharmel Edwards, Alesia Thomas, and Robin Taneisha Williams”.

Meaningful Black coalitions must think through antiblackness in at least two ways. We must discuss on one level, the unique set of violent feelings that invariably led to the death of Renisha Mcbride. But we must see the links between violent sentiment or the libidinal economy and the material conditions we are dealing with. Policies frame material conditions of mass incarceration, pre-9/11 hyper-surveillance, and the use of public funds for private gain in local and international communities. Here at The Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) we have drawn links between these different policies in our video The Real Crime.

Serious reflection on the material conditions and the libidinal economy of antiblackness must be paired with local and international organizing. Michael Brown’s community in Ferguson, Missouri is maintaining extremely well coordinated demonstrations. This is being done alongside the media’s fascination with “looters,” “riots,” and Black protestors. This coverage echoed by some Black commentators presents vague accusations of Black misconduct in the face of state violence as truths beyond critique. So how long can Ferguson, Mo maintain resistance under media scrutiny and a police siege ran by officers who consider African-American residents animals? St. Louis Ward 21 Alderman Antonio French has a thorough anatomy of this assault on an American city on his Twitter timeline. Also Sydette Harry’s (@Blackamazon) instruction to think about direct support, might lead us to raising funds for transportation, daycare, or care packages for extended protests.

We must think about historian Gerald Horne’s reminder that attempting to “lengthen the battlefield” or using international community in local struggles has always been a key aspect of Black organizing. So what will international Black movements look like in the 21st century? We live side by side in cities and neighborhoods across this country. Our children play together, we are mistaken for each other, and we are denied relation to each other. What are the key policy issues for African-American communities locally and how can Black immigrants support and pair them with their own demands? Considering police brutality and the range of policies motivated by antiblackness do we charge genocide again?

Recently African leaders met with President Obama in Washington, DC. for an African Leaders Summit. Immigrant solidarity can begin here by putting political pressure on foreign leaders, every time they visit the United States, to place Ferguson, Missouri before the international community. Presenting the genocidal relationship between African-Americans and the state might shame this country into justice. Historically this is how domestic freedoms were increased and this may benefit us internationally through the linked destinies of our communities. Our platform to launch this critique is founded on the history of mutual support our communities have shared. African-Americans created space in the U.S. for Black immigrants to make measured economic gains. These gains have lead to remittances that outstrip aid from Western governments. This same remittances give immigrants the ear of leaders from their countries of origin. Whether it is a pamphlet, an organized march, or even hazy cell phone footage the question must be asked, “ain’t this your son?”

Passing the Torch

A speech delivered by BAJI Co-Director, Gerald Lenoir – July 27, 2014

BAJI PTT-1

Eight years after the founding of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, we are gathering here to witness the passing of the symbolic torch to a new leader from a younger generation of social justice activists. I, as BAJI’s founding Executive Director, am relinquishing my leadership role in favor of Opal Tometi, my colleague and friend for the past four years.

Since I announced that I was leaving BAJI, I have been asked a number of questions by a number of people: Why are you leaving? Are you retiring? What are you going to do after BAJI?

Let me first say what I have said repeatedly, I’m tired but I’m not retired! I am following in the footsteps of Rev. Phil Lawson, who I think was reported to have retired at least three times! And he’s still on the case! So, no, I’m not retiring.

Why am I leaving BAJI? First of all, I’m not leaving BAJI. I’m leaving as a staff member of BAJI. BAJI is not an organization that you leave. For me, it is a family of kinfolk and a home for a set of progressive values and politics that is nurturing and life affirming. So why would I leave that?

What I am doing is providing a space for a young and talented leader to exercise her skills and realize her potential. I am stepping back; Opal is stepping up. Or as my wife Karen put it, “Out with the old, and in with the new!”

Seriously, though, this leadership transition is a testimony to the commitment that the BAJI board, Opal and I have had to develop new leadership in black communities and to organize our communities across generations.

Eight years ago last month, I started as BAJI’s very part-time director. Two month prior to that, Rev. Phil Lawson and Rev. Kelvin Sauls brought a group of us together to discuss how we, as people of African descent, could bring the issue of immigrant rights to African American communities. Please stand if you were in the room that April evening in Walter Riley’s law office.

If you all remember, there was an easy consensus that we considered immigrant rights as one of the cutting edge issues in the historic and ongoing struggle against white supremacy and for racial, social and economic justice in this country. We decided at that very first meeting that we would form an organization to educate and organize and bring African American and immigrant communities together in struggle.

The immediate impetus for BAJI’s formation was the massive demonstrations that were occurring across the country in support of fair and just immigration reform. Indeed, they were the largest demonstrations in the history of this country and compelled us, as activists to act in solidarity. We understood that as Samora Machel, the first President of Mozambique, stated, “Solidarity is not an act of charity but mutual aid between forces fighting for the same objective.” We knew the truth that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. articulated, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

We believed that the true emancipation of black people born in the U.S. is bound together with the liberation of immigrants of African descent and with immigrants for Asia, the Pacific Islands, Latin America, the Middle East, and ultimately with the liberation of all humankind.

I have always said that BAJI is a small organization with a big agenda. Our agenda involves unmasking the hoax of white supremacy that dominates and permeates every aspect of our lives and relegates communities and countries to marginalization and poverty. It includes peeling back the layers of myths, lies and half-truths that we are spoon fed in our schools, at our work places and in the media.  It requires that we reveal the root causes of poverty, displacement and migration that impact all of our communities as the inhumane policies of our U.S. government and corporations, policies deliberately designed to maximize profits and minimize people.

But we knew that exposing all of this was not enough. As legendary Civil Right organizer Ella Baker told us, “In order for us as poor and oppressed people to become part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed…It means facing a system that does not lend itself to your needs and devising a means by which you change that system…”

Heeding Ella Baker’s call, we set out to organize in our communities to address the evils that kept all of us from realizing our full human potential. In those early years of BAJI, I began to crisscross the country seeking out opportunities to gather people together, especially people of the African Diaspora, to craft solutions and to mobilize support for fundamental changes. L.A., New York, Newark, Chicago, Seattle, Washington, DC, Detroit, Jackson, MS, Atlanta, Phoenix, Tucson—I was a one-man traveling road show! Meanwhile, Phil Hutchings joined me on staff as the Bay Area Organizer during that second year and anchored the Bay Area work with our volunteer committees in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.

BAJI, that small half-staff operation began to grow until today, we have five full-time and two part-time staff in the Bay Area, New York, Atlanta and Phoenix. Amazing! And after five years of pulling it together, the Black Immigration Network has become our flagship program, bringing together black immigrant-led and African American-led groups for mutual support and coordinated action. We are on the move! Moving forward with organizing for Haitian Family Reunification, advocating for and end to the New Jim Crow of mass incarceration and mass detention and deportation, and supporting workers’ rights campaigns.

I am leaving BAJI at a time when the organization is maturing and blossoming as a national leader in the social justice movement, a movement building organization with a long term vision that goes beyond the immediate struggles to change policies. As Rev. Sauls often says, “Legislation is not our destination. Our destination is true liberation.”

And as I leave, I must express my deepest appreciation to some of my kinfolk who have been with me on this journey. It is a long list, so bear with me.

Let me first thank my wife of 37 years, Karen Lenoir and my son of 34 years, Jamana Lenoir. They have been rock solid support for me personally and for BAJI as well. In fact, Jamana not only designed and laid out the flyer and program for this event, he is also our photographer and videographer. Thank you, Jamana. Thank you, Karen.

Let me thank my BAJI family. First, Rev. Phil Lawson, I want to be like you when I grow up! You have truly inspired our movement and have been a guiding force in BAJI’s formation and in our ongoing work. Your treasure trove of knowledge, compassion and spiritual wisdom has left a lasting impression on me and your words will remain in my heart and mind. We only met each other when BAJI was formed and we have become, as you often say, “the family members we never met.” Thank you, Phil.

Rev. Kelvin Sauls, thank you, thank you, thank you, my brother from another mother! The gospel of liberation that you preach and practice has been an important part of BAJI’s perspective.

To Nunu Kidane, my sister from another mister, I am so grateful to you for your deep, deep sense of justice and for the close bonds of friendship, kinship and camaraderie we have enjoyed over the past eleven years.

Phil number two, Phil Hutchings, you, my brother, are da bomb! Your journey from SNCC to BAJI has been seamless. Your political acumen and social graces are legendary. Thanks, Phil.

Leonard McNeil, Big Mac! I am in awe of not only your physical size but also the size of you commitment to social justice. You are a giant of justice. Thank you so much.

My sister Alona Clifton, You are so great! You have toiled along side of me for all these years. I appreciate you being unapologetically black and your frankness and forthrightness. As you relocate to Atlanta, please know that you will be missed. Please accept this small token of appreciation as a going way gift.

Walter Riley, you are a consistent warrior for justice since you teen-age years in North Carolina. Your work in support of Haitian liberation has contributed greatly to our work in support of Haitian immigrants. Thanks for your guidance and support.

Ronald Colthirst, our Ambassador to San Francisco. Brother, thank you believing in BAJI and for carrying the message across the bay.

Denise Gums, thanks for your songs and solidarity. You have enriched BAJI and have contributed to the movement for justice.

Amahra Hicks, our Contra Costa representative for so many years. You are much appreciated for you long term commitment to black liberation and to human rights.

To the newer members of BAJI in the Bay Area—Regine Neptune, Marcel Jones, Tatiana Chaterji, Zef Amen— and to the new BAJI board members—Janis Rousheuvel, Aimee Castenell, Thomas Assefa and Marybeth Onyeukwu—thank you for volunteer you time and talent to BAJI and to the movement.

And to the BAJI staff, I want to say, you rock! Tia Oso, our Black Immigration Network coordinator, you are so awesome! Stand up, Tia, and be recognized. I am in awe of your talent, political savvy and uncompromising stance for justice. I have so enjoyed working along side of you.

To Terence Courtney, our Southeast Regional Organizer in Atlanta; Juwaher Yusuf, our Program Associate in New York; and Ben Kabuye and Devonte Jackson, our organizers in New York and Oakland respectively, I appreciate your dedication to your communities and to BAJI. You make BAJI work!

To all of our BAJI allies nationally and locally, especially within the Black Immigration Network, the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Detention Watch Network, Alameda County United in Defense of Immigrant Rights, the Bay Area Equal Voices Caucus, the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund and the Haiti Action Committee, it has been my honor to work along side of you and with you to rid our country and our world of injustice.

And last, but certainly not least, let me give my praises to the BAJI co-director and soon to be Executive Director Opal Tometi. Opal, will you come to the stage and join me, please?

Opal, when we met in Phoenix in 2010, we could not have foreseen the collaboration that we would forge. You, my sister, are so amazing!  You have the talent, personal commitment and political perspective to take BAJI to the next level.  Your vision for BAJI is, at the same time, expansive and focused. It has been one of my greatest pleasures to work with you and to walk along side of you on this journey to justice. Thank you, my sister! Today, I pass the torch of leadership to you. I am confident that you will keep the flame of freedom lit for all to see. Congratulations!

A Call for Global Solidarity with the Palestinian Struggle

Jul 24, 2014   //   baji, Blog, human rights, racial justice  

Post by Devonté Jackson, BAJI Bay Area Organizer and Regine Neptune, BAJI Bay Area Organizing Committee Member

Nearly 697 Palestinian deaths have been recorded in Israel’s bombing campaign on Gaza, approximately 160 were children. Yesterday, the Israeli military bombed Gaza’s only power plant killing 6 people, wounding 20. This disastrous bombing campaign has been justified by right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who claims the bombing campaign is a response to terrorist attacks targeting Israeli citizens orchestrated by Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic organization that has represented the Gaza strip since 2006.

Prior to the Israeli bombing campaign on Gaza, 3 Israeli teenagers were abducted, murdered, and buried under a pile of rocks. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu places responsibility of the brutal abduction and killings on Hamas and have since strategically utilized the killings of the Israeli teenagers to justify the massive slaughter of Palestinians who Netanyahu claims are being used as shields for Hamas. Palestine

In addition to the bombing campaign orchestrated by Netanyahu, Israeli mobs terrorized Palestinian communities in search of those responsible for the killings of the 3 Israeli teens. During this search, Israeli extremists captured and lynched Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 16 year old Palestinian. This caused widespread civil unrest in Palestinian communities.

Tariq, a Palestinian-American Florida resident and cousin of slain Mohammed Abu Khdeir, was brutally beaten by Israeli soldiers during his stay in Jerusalem because of his alleged participation in a protest against Israel. Tariq and his family denies participation in the protest and claims Tariq was observing the protest from a distance. After being beaten by the soldiers, Tariq was placed in an Israeli jail for 3 days, his family was forced to post $850 in bail, then he was placed on house arrest in Jerusalem. During this time, Tariq’s family requested support from Florida representative Kathy Castor (D) but she refused to offer substantive support during this difficult time.

We are not surprised at the unwillingness of Florida Representative Castor to represent Tariq. Florida’s legal system has proven to be racially biased. George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin, a young black man, for walking home with candy and a drink and was protected by the Stand Your Ground Law, while Marissa Alexander was recently denied trial by Circuit Judge James H. Daniel for firing a warning shot towards her husband, Rico Gray, who has a history of domestic abuse and had threatened Alexander’s life prior to the warning shot. It is clear that the our legal systems do not protect and serve the interests of black people and people of color in Florida and the US more generally.

The Palestinian struggle has commonalities with the historic and contemporary struggles in the U.S. against mass criminalization, state organized violence and brutality, racist legal systems, and the legacy of extralegal violence against marginalized people. We share similar experiences as people living under the oppressive policies and practices of a hegemonic state and we must practice global solidarity in order to end the Israeli bombing campaign and illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories which have facilitated mass displacement of Palestinian people. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, approximately 5 million Palestinians are eligible for refugee relief efforts.

We must also shed light to the Anti-African Movement in Israel. Many African communities in Israel face daily discrimination and violence because of their race and ethnicity. Prime Minister Netanyahu has identified African migrants as a threat to Israel and has made it his priority to limit the migration of African people into Israel to protect the Jewish identity of the Israeli state.

We recognize Israel’s treatment towards its African population as part of a global phenomenon of anti-blackness and white supremacy which terrorizes, criminalizes, and subjugates black communities and communities of color across the globe. In order to put an end to this, we must recognize that our liberation is tied to the liberation of all people. For us to create social, economic, and racial justice in our communities, we must build a united and powerful global movement aimed at achieving collective liberation for all.

#freePalestine #endtheoccupation

The Movement Continues

Jul 22, 2014   //   About BAJI, baji, black history, Blog, Board & Staff, Opal Tometi, Press  

By Gerald Lenoir, BAJI Co-director 

The day is fast approaching when I will pass the torch of leadership to BAJI Co-director Opal Tometi.  It feels like it was just yesterday when Rev. Phil Lawson and Rev. Kelvin Sauls called together a group of African Americans and black immigrant Bay Area activists and BAJI was born.  That was in 2006 and none of us knew where this experiment would lead us but we were willing to take the journey.  We knew that immigrant rights were a racial justice issue and that African Americans and immigrants should be coming together to fight for racial, social and economic justice. 

Since those initial days, BAJI has grown from one part-time Executive Director to now having local BAJI Organizing Committees in New York, Georgia, California and Arizona who are building coalitions and initiating campaigns among communities to push for racial justice. At the local and regional level, we’re providing training and technical assistance to partner organizations to develop leadership skills, working with faith communities to harness their prophetic voice, and initiating vibrant dialogues with African Americans and black immigrants to discover more about race, our diverse identities, racism, migration and globalization. Also, BAJI’s flagship initiative, the Black Immigration Network (BIN), is now a national alliance of nearly 30 black-led organizations that convenes them to advance just immigration policies and promote cultural shifts our communities need.  And of late, BAJI and its allies have embarked upon a national agenda of taking on building the BIN Kinship around the issues of mass criminalizationHaitian family reunification and workers’ rights.
  
We’ve come a long way since the early days of organizing small group sessions in Bay Area African American churches.  But we still have a long road ahead of us to peace, justice and equality.  As I leave, I hope you will continue to support BAJI and join us thisSunday, July 27, 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm at Everett and Jones BBQ, 126 Broadway in Oakland, where we are hosting “Passing the Torch: Celebrating the Leadership of Gerald Lenoir and Opal Tometi” where we will be honored and the work of BAJI will be uplifted.

I hope to see many of you at the BAJI “Passing the Torch” event this Sunday afternoon.  And please know that I’m leaving the staff of BAJI, but I’m not leaving the movement.  See you on the frontlines!
    
Take care,

Gerald Lenoir
BAJI Co-director (until July 31)

The Crisis at the Border and the lies that divide us

Jul 15, 2014   //   Blog, racism, refugee  

By Opal Tometi and Gerald Lenoir, BAJI Co-directors 

The humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border has precipitated a sometimes acrimonious debate about “border security” and the limits of U.S. responsibility for people seeking refugee status and asylum.  The tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors and adults with children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have waded across the Rio Grande and walked out of the Sonora desert into a firestorm of controversy about their right to be here and the appropriate response by the Obama Administration.

We at the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) takes the position that the U.S. government has a moral and legal responsibility to accommodate refugees and asylum seekers and to reunite them with any family members they have in the U.S.  U.S. law as well as international treaties and laws are unequivocal about the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, especially unaccompanied minors, and the obligations of receiving countries to provide safe haven.

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Beyond the legal imperatives, the U.S. government has a moral responsibility to act humanely.  According to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Honduras has the highest homicide rate outside of a war zone.  Guatemala and El Salvador also have extremely high murder rates.  Government repression, death squads and drug wars have made life unbearable for millions of families.  If the United States is to live up to the moral precepts our leaders say they espouse, then it is a no-brainer that we should support those who are seeking refuge.

More than that, the United States has a moral responsibility to right the wrongs that it has had a major role in creating.  For the past five years alone, the U.S, government has funneled tens of millions of dollars to corrupt militaries and police forces in Central America that has greatly contributed to human rights crises in the region.  And historically, U.S. government and corporate support for repressive regimes in Central America has severely weakened democratic institutions and has hampered the social and economic development throughout the region.

_EPG8071In addition, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) have helped to undermine local economies in Mexico and Central America and has forced the flow of children and families across borders and into the U.S.  Subsidized U.S. crops have flooded Latin American markets, for example, and have resulted in the loss of livelihood for millions of farm families who now seek work in the U.S., including the tens of thousands of Afro-latinos who are often forgotten in this discourse.

 

It is a travesty that there are some with a narrow view of the crisis and of structural racism, like Keli Goff, who in her online opinion piece at theroot.com, has given into the tired “divide and conquer” framing that pits African Americans against immigrants. Her piece promoted a false divide. She makes invisible the fact that our communities have much in common in terms of values, traditions and interests, and her argument suggests that we argue over scraps. The fact is, that the U.S. government has a responsibility to all its residents – whether citizen or not. Arguments such as Goff’s do a disservice to the cause of African Americans to suggest that the money slated to go support refugees should be used to meet the employment and education support due to African Americans.  While it is true that the U.S. government has misplaced priorities, it does no one any good to point the finger at other groups who have been victimized.  Instead, all of us should champion the cause of the current refugees and asylum seekers and begin to coalesce an inclusive human rights movement that fights for racial, social and economic justice for all people who are left out.

Please check out additional great pieces about this issue from people we support and collaborate with here:

- THE SOUL OF OUR NATION http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marqueece-harrisdawson/murrieta-immigration-protests-soul-of-our-nation_b_5575249.html

- WE STAND TOGETHER http://www.theroot.com/articles/politics/2014/07/unaccompanied_children_are_refugees_of_the_war_on_drugs.html

Predation on Public Education

Jul 1, 2014   //   Blog, education, politics, racial justice, schools, south, youth  

Post by Terence Courtney, BAJI Southeast Regional Organizer  

A very dangerous pattern, reminiscent of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, is steadily moving across the country.  In the south, the Midwest and the northeast, school closings are sending shockwaves throughout Black and Immigrant communities.  These shocks are later followed by a form of public school privatization called charter schools.

In Louisiana, the state controllers of the New Orleans School system –called the Louisiana’s Recovery School District (RSD)- will close what remains of the Big Easy’s public schools, making it the first 100% percent charter school district in the country. It’s a process began in the wake of Hurricane Katrina when anti public school advocates took advantage of the chaos caused by death and destruction to remake the city, starting with one of its key institutions –the public schools. The majority of the public schools were subsequently closed, and reopened as tax-payer funded but privately controlled charters.

Nearly 7,000 of New Orleans’ unionized teachers were subsequently fired without a democratic process or a voice. School closings, firings of experienced teachers with union protections, and privatization on such a scale would appear to many people as a clear detriment to the education of students living in a city recovering from the disaster that happened 9 years ago. But not to those who subscribe to a neoliberal agenda.  Their aim is to dismantle public education as a human right, and it’s a bi-partisan affair. In the opinion of Democratic Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, Hurricane Katrina was “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans”.

Last week the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) issued a report called, “Twelve Months Later: The Impact of School Closings in Chicago”, which analyzes the closing of 50 schools in Chicago last year. Unsurprisingly, it found that 90% percent of the schools that were closed had a majority black student body and/or majority black teachers, many whom were unionized workers. For schools with Black students as the minority, only 2% percent were closed.

Chicagoans are finding out what Atlantans learned in 2012; that despite the hype by school administrators and school boards, closing schools doesn’t make education better. Reports on closings indicate that instances of violence tend to increase, children are forced to travel farther to get to school – which affects study habits, students get pushed into equal or lower performing schools, class sizes swell to overcrowded levels, and homeless children are hurt disproportionately. Adding insult to injury, the Chicago Public School system is now using the resources it “saved” from closing majority Black public schools to fund tax-payer funded and privately operated charter schools.

Given this trend, it’s no wonder why a Philadelphia coalition of Teachers, Students and Community activists have risen up to resist the Republican Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Corbett’s, efforts. Corbett has cut school funding and pushed for privatization. In response, protesters staged a demonstration on June 9th, which was followed by a Student led walkout on June 11th. The students have demanded that resources be put back into the public schools system, and they don’t want to be coerced into charter schools.

Clearly the Charter school movement is an attack on the education of Black and Brown youth, and it gets worse if the student is an Immigrant. For though US law states that School districts cannot, “deny admission to immigrant children, treat a student differently, engage in practices that “chill” the right of access, make inquiries about status or require social security numbers”, according to Aljazeera, charter schools do just that:

“In early 2013, Reuters released an in-depth report showing that charter schools across the United States have adopted complex screening practices that include requiring detailed applications available only in English, tight scheduling that allows for application only during an annual two- or three-hour window and Social Security card or birth-certificate checks (which are illegal requirements).”

These are terrible practices, and it seems well publicized myths about charter schools protect them from scrutiny. One such myth is that charter schools are better alternatives to public schools, but serious study shatters those myths. A recent article on charter schools by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) cites two studies by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) –one from 2009 and another from 2013- which make it clear that charters don’t do better than public schools. In fact, CREDO found in 2009, “Averaged across all schools, the impact of attending a charter school was a slight—but statistically significant—negative impact for both math and reading gains (CREDO 2009, 3, 22).” And when CREDO updated its study in 2013, it found that charters had made only a small amount of improvement, and that “public schools still had superior math performance..” Furthermore, in October of 2010, the NAACP passed a resolution that stated that Charter schools create “separate and unequal conditions” for educational success.

We should applaud and replicate the efforts of the teachers, students and community who have come together to fight back against the attack on public education in Philadelphia. Cuts in funding, a lack of democracy, school closings and charter schools have to be vigorously resisted to protect our human right to education. We have to stand with teachers against the neoliberal plan to de-professionalize their career. Those who would dismantle public education favor replacing good teachers with less experienced, less committed, non-unionized workers. This creates a high turnover rate that can’t be a positive step forward for our children. In this situation, Black and Brown youth – US and Foreign born – are hurt the most. Let’s go forward together to not just stop this Shock Doctrine on education, but we must also advance the cause of real democracy in public education.

Going Deeper: Movement Building in Georgia

Post by Terence Courtney, BAJI Southeast Regional Organizer  

The South has been and remains a key bastion of domination in the United States.  It’s a place where Black people -Immigrant and Citizen- face some of harshest conditions for the realization of human rights anywhere in the nation.  Structural oppression permeate political, economic, and even sometimes cultural spheres of Black life, which strive to undermine efforts to organize effective opposition to injustice.  While that’s not news, it may surprise some that these conditions are precisely why the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) decided to begin organizing in the region.  It’s the territory that must be confronted if we are to advance Immigrant Rights, Racial Equity and Economic Justice.

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In a period of just under one year, BAJI has made significant progress in Atlanta, Georgia.  It’s built a committee of Black

Immigrants and African Americans who come together regularly.  They base their relationship on shared values, and a vision for a movement that sees immigration policies from a black perspective, and how those policies must be changed in order for everyone to have more freedom.  Delving deeply into the BAJI analysis, the Atlanta Organizing Committee has created frameworks and strategies, such as Grassroots Organizing, Coalition Building, Human Rights, and Intersectionality, to form a powerful and forward looking program.  Coupled with BAJI’s longstanding commitment to Education, Media, and Direct action, the Atlanta Committee is putting together a formidable arsenal of ideas that lay the foundation for a practice that’s transformative.

This has meant that the Atlanta Committee has done the hard work of going to the people; of reaching out to Black Immigrant communities to learn, and build interconnections that are the bedrock for social movement building.

As one could imagine, there are challenges.  Fear, shame, and internalized oppression vex efforts at alliance creation.  However, rather than becoming discouraged, the Atlanta Committee realized that these dilemmas meant they were getting closer to real people immersed in an oppressive condition, and all the baggage that comes with that.

On April 26th, BAJI Atlanta conducted the first in a series of forums to have a public dialogue on what it means to build

partnerships between Black Immigrants and African Americans.  The program was an interactive discussion between a panel and audience who came from different walks of Black life.  African and Caribbean immigrants were strongly represented.  College professors, human rights educators, local grassroots activists, public school employees, union members, journalists, and simply concerned residents came together to strategize over matters involving Immigration Reform, Mass Incarceration, Criminalization and Economic Globalization.  The half day forum served as a dynamic space to talk frankly about these issues and how we move forward together.

P1100353 (2)Buoyed by the depth of the conversation, forum participants broke bread in comradeship, and inspired each other to redouble their commitment to BAJI and the work it does in Atlanta.  Solutions to challenges were proposed and debated.  But over and again, the panel and audience reminded each other with words of hope how important it is for BAJI to continue to be the bridge between US born and foreign born communities.  In the process, the Committee learned a lot about itself and what BAJI does.  So, with passion, patience, and a profound sense of encouragement, BAJI Atlanta pronounced with determination, that organizing will continue to intensify in Metro Atlanta.

What Comprehensive Immigration Reform Entails

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:

 

BORDER MILITARIZATION

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!

 

IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT

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.

 

FUTURE MIGRATION

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:

 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

 

 

The Dominican Republic and the US Twins of Neoliberal Immigration Policy

Nov 12, 2013   //   Blog, Dominican Republic, haiti, race, racism  

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.

Haitians Protest Immigration Policy

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:

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/gonzalez-citizenship-haitians-threatened-article-1.1493523

http://thinkprogress.org/immigration/2013/09/30/2693951/dominican-republic-revoke-citizenship/

http://www.workers.org/articles/2013/10/24/protests-hit-dominican-republics-expulsion-haitians/

BAJI Co-Director Featured in AfroElle Magazine

Oct 10, 2013   //   About BAJI, africa immigrants, Blog, Board & Staff, Opal Tometi  

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

 http://issuu.com/afroellemagazine/docs/afroelle_afropolitan_issue_-_2013

AfroElle Afropolitan Issue - 2013 Opal

AfroElle Afropolitan Issue - 2013 Opal 2

 

Same Discriminatory Policies, Different Name – Just What is S-Comm?

Aug 7, 2013   //   Blog, detention, identity, immigration, jim crow, Press, racism  

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.

What’s S-comm?

“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

http://org.credoaction.com/petitions/alameda-county-get-out-of-the-immigrant-detention-deportation-business

OR

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

Solidarity with Haiti

May 6, 2013   //   baji, Blog, Campaigns, caribbean, debt crisis, haiti  

Post by Kijani Tafari, BAJI Bay Area Organizer

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

Thoughts from the South

May 6, 2013   //   Blog, Press  

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.

The Senate Immigration Reform Bill—The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

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

The colors of immigration reform

Original Post by Philip M. Jones, Our Weekly

Race and ethnicity have always played a major role

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 Kemi Bello – “Battling Silence”

Feb 26, 2013   //   afican, africa immigrants, art, awards, Blog, poetry  

Poetry by Things I’ll Never Say Contest Winner: Kemi Bello

Picture

BATTLING SILENCE

First, I was illegal
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,
Unashamed,
Unapologetic –
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
My Home.

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,
The necessity,
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.

Ignoring our Father’s Dreams?

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

 

BAJI Reacts to Obama Immigration Plan

Jan 29, 2013   //   Blog, ice, immigration, Press  

BLACK IMMIGRANT RIGHTS GROUP EXPRESSES CONCERN ABOUT POTUS IMMIGRATION REFORM PLAN

[Oakland, CA – January 29, 2013] As President Obama issues his plan on immigration the Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) , Gerald Lenoir issues the following statement:

The President’s Immigration Reform proposal unveiled today contained no surprises.  President Obama proposed a broad legalization program with few details.  It is very positive the 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 of immigrants who have Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced 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 to be “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 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 America Free Trade Agreement, 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 farm and migrate to the United States.

The Black Alliance for Just Immigration and its partner organizations in the Black Immigration Network 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.

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Why this Round of Immigration Reform is Not So Different

Jan 25, 2013   //   africa immigrants, african american, Blog  

By Gerald Lenoir and Cathi Tactaquin

Pramila Jayapal’s article titled, “Why this Round of Immigration Reform is Different” in ColorLines Magazine overlooks some critical factors in the struggle for fair and just immigration reform.  It is certainly the case that the immigrant rights movement is stronger today than it was during the last round of the congressional debate, as Jayapal points out.   She is also right that the show of force at the ballot box by immigrant voters and their allies helped to catapult immigration reform to the top of the political agenda for both Democrats and Republicans.

But does this bipartisan change of heart in Congress mean that we can expect a bill that will meet the needs and aspirations of the 11 million undocumented immigrants now residing in the United States?  Not!  Although the Republican Party lost the election, their conservative ideology still holds tremendous sway over both parties and in the public psyche.

Yes, a door has opened for immigration reform—but the road to reform is a rocky one and it’s quite possible that what we see at the end falls way below the standard for fairness. The political line-up on immigration in both the House and the Senate continues to be a dangerous one—and the devil will be in the details of any “deal” on immigration reform.

It is highly questionable if there will be a fair and just path to permanent legal status for people without visas, as Seth Freed Wessler points out in another ColorLines article, “What to Expect from Immigration Reform and When to Expect It”.  While some type of legalization program appears to have some political teeth, there is still considerable contention over its depth and breadth. As Wessler suggests, there will likely be many, many people who will be left out the legalization program for various reason—they can’t prove how long they’ve been in the country, they have a “criminal background”, they been deported in the past and returned, they are a family with gay or lesbian partners, etc.  And in all likelihood, it may take many years, up to a decade, before the promised legalization comes to fruition, leaving those who get in trouble with the law or who lose their employment left out in the cold.

In addition, there will probably be an extension of guest worker programs that have led to the unbridled exploitation of low wage immigrant workers. We can also expect an employment verification program to be part of a package. In addition, the Republicans are threatening to cut back on family reunification and diversity visas.  These will all be huge fights and the odds are not on the side of justice.  And we’re not even talking here about the need for some fundamental revamping of the “legal” immigration system, which is also needed.

As in the last round of Congressional immigration debate, the core immigration enforcement mechanisms that have led to record detentions and deportations, border–crossing deaths, and massive human rights violations along the border and in the interior will probably remain intact and we continue to hear talk of increases in enforcement, particularly along sections of the U.S.-Mexico border.

A new “Enforcement Reform Caucus,” of immigration advocacy groups, recently formed to push for immigration reform that moves from “enforcement first” to “human rights first,” anticipating the stakes in a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enact meaningful reforms. This caucus stands opposed to “trade-offs” that will sacrifice the rights and opportunities of one group of immigrants for another in a reform package.  Surely it will not be enough to just champion “immigration reform” or even “a path to citizenship.”  All elements of a deal on immigration have to be addressed and immigrant communities, advocates and supporters need to be very aware of the entire package of reforms, good and bad.

Not surprisingly, nowhere in the debate on immigration reform is there a mention of the root causes of migration—including free trade agreements and structural adjustment programs (SAPS).  Multi-national corporate and U.S. foreign policies continue to devastate economies throughout the Global South. Wars, climate change, persecution abound. For survival, to support themselves and their families, people have been forced to move.  The United Nations says that there are 215 million people who do not reside in the country of their birth. Immigration reform, with all its limitations, will not address the destructive economic and foreign policies that contribute to unprecedented global migration.

All this said, it is incumbent upon immigrant communities and their allies to fight tooth-and-nail for fair, humane immigration reform.  And we cannot harbor any illusions that justice is just around the corner; whatever gets signed into law will set the stage for a new round of struggle for fair and just immigration laws and policies.

In the short and the long term, the immigrant rights movement will benefit by coming together with the parallel movements for racial equity and economic justice to push for a comprehensive agenda that benefits all poor and working class communities.  It is no accident that in the 2012 election exit poll conducted by the Washington Post, African Americans polled the highest in support for legal status for undocumented immigrants (81%), even higher the Hispanics (77%)!  It is their long history of struggling against white supremacy and economic exploitation that explains why African Americans have greater empathy and support for immigrants facing the same forces of oppression.  And while there is still a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment among African Americans to be overcome, they can be strategic allies in the continuing struggle to build a new human rights movement capable of winning social and economic justice for all.


  Cathi Tactaquin is the Executive Director of the National Network for Immigrant and Refuge Rights (NNIRR).  Gerald Lenoir is the Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, a member organization of NNIRR and the Black immigration Network.

 

Ella Baker, Dream Activists, and Lessons Learned

Blog post by Terence Courtney, BAJI Southeast Regional Organizer

As I approach 2013, I can’t help but reflect on 2012 to help jump start conceiving of future strategies that will advance the  mission of BAJI (Racial Equity, Economic Justice, & Immigrant Rights)  next year.  This time of year seems to call us to it.  I ask myself what have been some common themes from the victories and failures that have fundamentally affected the forward march of our cause?  What have been some powerful tactical approaches that changed the dynamics for creating social justice?  Are there historical roots and corollaries that will help inform a theory I can learn from and apply today?  These are deep questions.  And while I can’t say I say I know all the answers, I believe I am starting to see some patterns.

December 13th 2013 will mark the one hundred tenth birthday of Ella Josephine Baker.  Baker was an outstanding and extraordinary civil and human rights organizer who is often overlooked when we talk about leaders from the Civil Rights era.  With a career that covered some of the most turbulent periods in US history (the 1930’s through 80’s), Ella Baker worked with and helped found some of the most iconic organizations in black American history.  When we think of organizations like the NAACP, the SCLC, SNCC, and others, we have to place Baker as powerful agent for change in their pantheon of heroes.  She often would travel throughout the south –alone- organizing people to fight Jim Crow.  And this was during a time when it was extremely dangerous for black people to organize alone, especially black women.

Besides her heroism, Baker was brilliant theoretician.  She developed a method of organizing that was set apart from what was traditionally being done.  Her model of organizing called upon a more collectivized and egalitarian process that in many ways radically challenged the status quo, and gave people a vision of bettering their lives without falling into traps.  And from what I see in the successes over the past year -one way or another- the lessons that Ella Baker taught so many years ago are alive and working.

Consider that Baker’s theory for change called upon 3 main elements:  (1) Focus on grassroots organizing, or organizing that is rooted and springs forth from a community and their concerns, where they get to make decisions about their lives; (2) Prioritizing the people in that community who are most impacted by the issues, because they have the most at stake; and (3) prioritizing the use of Direct Action, to destroy fear and seriously challenge unjust powers.  And one group in the Immigrant Rights struggle that has achieved victory by –perhaps not consciously- using the Ella Baker model is the Dream Activists.  I’m very impressed by these young people who have changed minuses into pluses by going deeper.

Being undocumented, many Dream Activists are illegible to vote, and they live under the constant threat of imprisonment and deportation.  Yet, they have not let those hurdles stop them from making real change.  Like black people under Jim Crow who similarly found themselves disenfranchised, Dream Activists found that they had more than one way to improve their lives; they began to organize their communities, prioritize those most affected by the attack on Immigrants, and utilize direct action.  As one blog written on the Dream Activist website says, they got Back to Basics.   And doing this enabled them to bypass the morass of Washington DC, and force the hand of Obama; making him sign an Executive Order called the “Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.”  And whereas many groups would have rested on the laurels of this improvement, the Dream Activists that I’ve spoken with are not placated by the Order, its small scope, or expiration date of Feb 28, 2013.  They know that if they can achieve this victory, there is more to come if they keep doing what they’re doing.

My hats off to them, and I think Ella Baker would be proud.  So, it seems to me that there are some lessons the rest of us who are concerned with Immigrant Rights, Human Rights, or even Civil Rights can learn, or re-learn from Dream Activist and the Ella Baker model.  As the centrists and right wingers continue to try to chip away at our voting rights, we need to keep in mind that we secured our voting rights by using direct action, and it perhaps by using these lessons we can protect past gains, and fight for more.

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