A speech delivered by BAJI Co-Director, Gerald Lenoir – July 27, 2014
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!
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.
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.
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 criminalization, Haitian 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!
BAJI Co-director (until July 31)
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.
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.
In 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
By Opal Tometi, BAJI Co-Director
Over the past months I’ve been sharing with black immigrant and African American communities about immigration reform. Here’s some of the analysis that we’ve developed over this last round of immigration reform:
The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act also known as the Senate’s Comprehensive immigration reform bill is a bill that would allocate over $40 billion dollars in military spending in the name of “border security”. As the daughter of Nigerian immigrants – who lived in Arizona and lived in the border region for several years I can honestly tell you, without a doubt is overkill. Over the next 10 years, the proposed bill will create one of the most militarized border zones in the world. 2nd only to the North and South Korea border region. Let’s not forget that more than 7 million U.S. Citizens, residents and families live in border communities from San Diego, California to Tucson, AZ to Brownsville, Texas. This massive militarization includes adding an additional 20,000 Border Patrol agents to the more than 21,000 that are currently deployed, resulting in a total over 40,000., At least 700 miles of border fencing ; the Deployment of the National Guard; 488 Fixed Remote Video Surveillance Systems; 232 Mobile Surveillance Systems; 4,425 Ground Sensors; 820 Thermal and Night Vision Goggles; 17 UH-1N Helicopters; 15 Blackhawk Helicopters; 30 marine vessels; 18 drones and much more. All of this comes with an initial price tag of 47 Billion dollars!
And THIS is the prerequisite upon which THEN undocumented migrants can begin the path to some semblance of legalization and possibly even citizenship. However, even this path WON’T apply to an estimated 4 to 6 million immigrants of the 11 million who are undocumented. And those who don’t qualify will be faced with harsh and dehumanizing immigration enforcement, due to the new mechanisms enshrined in this bill. Leaving those migrants who don’t qualify facing detention and deportation or leave them in undocumented status for the rest of their lives!
A NEW IMMIGRATION SYSTEM
The bill proposes a new type of immigration status called, Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status. And RPIs, after 10 years may have the opportunity to apply for lawful permanent residence (LPR) status. (Green card)
According to Peter Schey who’s been an immigration analyst and attorney for 20 years, undocumented immigrants who qualify for Registered Provisional Immigrant Status need to beware of a few things: (1) the indeterminate “Back-of-the-Line” requirement, (2) the Average Income requirement, (25% above poverty line) (3) the Continuous Employment requirement (can’t be unemployed more than 60 days), (4) the Payment of Taxes requirement, (5) the thirteen to twenty-year waiting period and “Triggers”, (6) fees and penalties for program participation (estimated $2000), (7) ineligibility for public benefits.
Some of these RPI eligibility requirements are going to be extraordinarily difficult for low-income immigrants to achieve. And particularly Black immigrants who already earn the lowest wages among all foreign born populations. And According to research done by the Economic Policy Institute black immigrants (i.e. those of us from Africa, the Caribbean) have the highest unemployment rates compared to all immigrant groups.
Now there are some under this bill who will qualify for expedited citizenship unlike others whose only option is the RPI status. Those groups are those who are DREAMAct eligible, those who qualify under Temporary Protected Status and some Farmworkers.
I’ll explain those 3 briefly. So, Temporary Protect Status is a status that is granted due to temporary conditions, such as ongoing armed conflict, environmental disasters, or other extraordinary and temporary conditions. Countries that are currently under TPS are El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and Syria. Another similar status, called Deferred Enforced Departure, and this is a type of designation that was granted to Liberians. And they too will be included in some sort of expedited path to citizenship. We are happy about this because is something we’ve been advocating for, for many many years now.
Also, similar to the DreamAct – youth who came to the US before the age of 16 will also have an expedited path to citizenship. To qualify for this accelerated program, an applicant must have earned a high-school diploma or GED, have completed at least two years of college or completed four years of military service, and have passed an English test and background checks, among other requirements. DREAMers may apply for citizenship as soon as they receive their green card.
One of the provisions of the Senate bill is to establish an Agricultural Worker Program that would include both undocumented agricultural workers currently residing in the US, as well as a temporary guest worker program for agricultural workers not residing in the US. I include this information because there are some black immigrants who also work in agriculture. Particularly Haitian communities in places like Florida, and other Caribbean nationals who reside In the Southeastern United States. The proposed Agricultural worker program for those already living in the US is called “Blue Card Status”. The earliest that a Blue Card Status holder would be able to apply for LPR would be 5 years after the enactment of the bill. They will have to pay a $400 fine and make sure all taxes are paid beginning with the date the applicant was first authorized to work under Blue Card Status: Pay all applicable processing fees including application fees, biometrics fees, fees for national security, criminal background and fraud checks, as well as fees to cover the administration of collecting such fees!
So, let’s now move on to enforcement of immigration. And here enforcement looks like criminalization of migrants. Provisions such as mandatory E-Verify which every employer will have to track the immigration status of all employees. There is currently an immigration detention quota, that in this bill will increase come 2014. This means more money for the private prison industry. There will also be additional resources allocated to capturing people who’ve overstayed their visas. We should know that the majority of African immigrants and many other immigrant groups who are undocumented – overstayed their visa. And will likely continue to do so as the RPI status is only applicable to those migrants in the US before December 31, 2011!
Generally speaking, we should always be wary about immigration enforcement measures because immigrants of all national backgrounds are highly impacted. And Black immigrants usually catch the most grief despite our low presence. Black immigrants are 10% of the foreign-born population, yet are five times more likely to be in detention and deportation proceedings. That is to say they are overrepresented in rates similar to trends of over incarceration of African Americans. To be clear though – in share numbers Latino immigrants are detained and deported at higher numbers.
There’s still a lot ore to be said about enforcement in this bill. I’ll write another post or share some links from allied groups who’ve conducted more analysis.
As it relates to future migration, the Senate Bill also makes substantial changes to the system. The new bill moves the immigration system from one that was originally about family, to one that would be about merit. Merit meaning one’s value is directly tied to the way in which they can benefit the US economy. This will be a point system based on a myriad of criteria. Such as language proficiency, nation of origin, educational attainment – although worth also dependent on which nation you earned your degree in. This new point system does a disservice to some, such as women, people who work in the informal economy or do unpaid work, relatives of U.S. citizens with insufficient formal education and employment history, older adults, and applicants from less-developed countries.
Also – related to future migration in the Senate’s immigration bill the Diversity Visa (aka Green Card Lottery) Program that was created by the Immigration Act of 1990 would be eliminated. It’s been under threat for many years. And the initial intent of the visa was to stimulate migration from parts of the world under-represented in the U.S. People who do not have close family or employment in the U.S. have very few opportunities for legal migration to the U.S. I highlight the Diversity Visa because almost half of the visas are awarded to those from various African Countries. Significant populations from Africa would not have been admitted to the U.S., had it not for the Diversity Visa Program. The numbers of family and employment visas for Africa are significantly lower than those given to other regions such as Europe, Asia and Latin America. For example in 2004, family and employment visas that were granted to Africans were a low 10.8% whereas Diversity Visa allocations were 40.6%.
All that being said and with the backlash about the Diversity Visa being cut in the bill, Senator Schumer decided to introduce an amendment to the Immigration Reform proposal. This amendment in essence established a new visa category to appease black immigrant groups (such as many of ours represented in the room today). The new visa is called E-6 and is connected to African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and Caribbean Basin Initiative – and are in essence going to be allocated to those who want to establish a business in the U.S. 10,600 visas are going to be given to each region. The likelihood that these will in fact be a viable option for those coming from developing nations is not high.
In this bill Sibling Visas and Adult Children visas (for those over the age of 30) would also be cut. This has been incredibly beneficial to migrant communities over the years and helped to reunite families who’ve been separated for years.
And one other thing we should know about this bill is that there is a provision that will ban visas to nations that don’t accept deportees.
THE HOUSE BILL & PIECEMEAL LEGISLATION
All this may actually end up being irrelevant in the near future. . It’s all left to be seen. The House introduced their version of the Immigration Reform bill over a month ago, and this bill is basically the exact same thing, without the border militarization pieces. The House also has decided to move forward with a piecemeal strategy that has some very draconian, counterproductive, immigration-related bills that are heavy on enforcement and according to many advocates and researchers will make life more grueling for migrant communities. I’ll briefly mention 3 here:
- Legal Workforce Act, H.R. 1772 was introduced in the U.S. House on April 26, 2013, by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX).1 The bill mandates the use of an electronic employment eligibility verification system (EEVS) by every employer in the U.S.
- Agricultural Guestworker Act, H.R. 1773 which would create a new agricultural guest worker program. Was introduced by House Judiciary committee Chairman Goodlatte (R-VA) it would in essence create more dysfunction in the immigration system. According to extensive analysis conducted by the organization Farmworker Justice, the bill would deprive US citizens and lawful permanent residents of job opportunities, lower farmworkers already poor wages and allow exploitative conditions for hundreds of thousands of new guest workers. The bill does things such as slash wage rates and withhold 10% of workers wages; eliminate travel-expense reimbursement to which workers are entitled; limit worker access to judicial relief and legal assistance, reduce guest worker’s minimum-work guarantee and minimize government oversight among other things.
- Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act, H.R. 2278 (aka the HATE Act in immigrant rights movement) The SAFE Act was introduced in June 2013 by the chair of the House of Representatives’ Immigration Subcommittee, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC). If enacted, the SAFE Act’s single-minded focus on immigration enforcement will increase detentions and deportations, and create an environment of rampant racial profiling and unconstitutional detentions without fixing the immigration sytem.
To learn more about our work and immigration reform visit us at www.blackalliance.org and also visit the national network we help to coordinate Black Immigration Network. www.backimmigration.net . You’ll find many important documents there and you can also learn about the national conference and strategy convening we’ll be having in February in Miami, FL.
By Terence Courtney, BAJI Southeast Organizer
More than a month ago, the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court passed a ruling to disenfranchise Dominicans of Haitian descent. With this move, thousands of families will lose their citizenship rights, and access to much needed social services. In many regards, this attack on Black Immigrants in the Dominican Republic mirrors the United States’ orientation to Black Immigrants and Immigrants of Color. Like the Dominican Republic, the US does not grant rights of citizenship to Immigrants whom it deems unworthy, and many states like Georgia deny access to social services to the undocumented – a violation of their Human Rights. Like the US, Dominican authorities use tactics of social control. There are raids in communities of Haitian descent. Families face separation because of racial profiling, detention, and deportation by Dominican authorities.
A common thread running through the experience of Immigrant/Migrants in the Dominican Republic and the US is the presence of an active Neoliberal agenda utilizing a racialized program to target its victims.
Over the past decade or more, the Dominican Republic has joined the US in moving in the direction of Neoliberalism. There have been cuts in social spending. There has been privatization of public institutions. Sales taxes have increased, and other taxes have been levied which disproportionately impact working class communities. Though all working families in the Dominican Republic are affected by the Neoliberal regime, the hardest hit are those of Haitian descent. They are targeted in particular because of the long standing xenophobic (or racist) attitudes elites in the Dominican Republic have towards Haiti. This anti-Haitian attitude gained immense power under dictator, Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 until 1961, and it still persists to this very day. Trujillo promoted a pogrom of ethnic cleansing where Haitians were intensely discriminated against, while immigration from whites was greatly encouraged. The same is also true for the US, where immigrants of color typically have a much harder time gaining a foothold than their White/European counterparts. This racist neoliberalism places Dominicans of Haitian descent in a position of hyper-exploitation by employers for profit, because these workers are rendered stateless, with few roads to improve their situation.
To further understand this situation we have to look at the forces currently in power in the Dominican Republic. The last few political administrations to run the government moved the island nation in this Neoliberal direction. This has been the work of the Dominican Party of Liberation or PLD. Like the Democratic Party of the US, the PLD was once seen as progressive or left, but more recently it has embraced the ideas promoted by the IMF and other global Neoliberal institutions. In exchange for loans, the IMF and World Bank work with local elites to create agreements that require privatization of public property and a shift of public wealth to private hands. On top of that, the economies of countries stuck in such agreements are burdened by onerous loan repayment obligations that siphon resources away from the human needs of the people.
We also see another similarity between the US and the Dominican Republic in the use of police and jailing to contain and detain stigmatized communities. Detention and deportations are a frequent occurrence in the both places. But this tactic is not used to expel immigrants/migrants en masse, for this would wreak havoc on the respective economies of both nations. Rather, detention and deportations are a useful tool to terrorize; to send the message to stay in one’s place.
BAJI believes that the solution to these problems lie in organizing people of African descent to oppose such measures. We have to urgently engage in a process of educating ourselves to see our connections and take action to dismantle injustice. Many of the actions by the Dominican Republic will result in migration to the US, where Black Immigrants will encounter many of the same racist attitudes and laws that are present in the Dominican Republic. Clearly the tentacles of white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchy are global, and the only way forward for black people is to build social movements that have a local, national, and international understanding of our situation. Let us go forward with this realization and fight for Just Immigration everywhere.
For more information please visit:
BAJI Co-Director, Opal Tometi featured on page 22 of AfroElle Magazine.
In this article she discusses the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and the immigrant rights movement.
For the full issue visit: AfroElle Magazine