BAJI Executive Director Opal Tometi Statement on Executive Action

Statement from Opal Tometi, the Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration regarding President Obama’s executive action on immigration and deportation
As a national organization comprised of Black Immigrants and African Americans we’ve been championing immigrant rights as a part of our larger fight for racial justice. We are heartened that President Obama has finally listened to our courageous communities and taken action. Undocumented immigrants from the Asian, Latino and Black communities are the leaders who’ve created this moment. They have created this shift in administrative procedures in the immigration system. 
In recent years we’ve seen courage of multiethnic Black communities to advocate for fair, inclusive and just immigration policies because our communities and destinies are intertwined. We will continue to push because we know that even in this moment it is flawed. Flawed by transnational policies that force people to migrate. Flawed by a system that displaces entire communities in the U.S. and abroad, while simultaneously criminalizing them. Flawed by creating a class of people who are highly exploitable, disposable — ultimately, deportable. 
We demand not one more disposable person in our community. Not one more immigrant left vulnerable to deportation.  Due to racial and religious profiling, Black immigrant communities are among those who are most acutely impacted by enforcement measures. African Americans and Black immigrants suffer when there is increased immigration policing and profiling in their communities. 
Furthermore, we won’t stand for a system that criminalizes us, and then pits family against people who may have a criminal record. We know that we all matter, and that the real crime is that we are subject to criminalization. 
As a community we needed the Administration to have included key provisions that would have been beneficial for Black immigrant communities:
  • Administrative Relief for All immigrants  – although 4 million is great, all 11 million is better. Many in our communities still won’t be protected by the immigration announcement. 
  • No more Racial and Religious Profiling in the name of immigration enforcement.
  • No more removal proceedings for Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs), many Black immigrants are LPRs and due to draconian laws from 1996 many get unduly targeted for removal.
  • Address the visa backlog – many in people are waiting to be reunited with their family members, and this is easily one way the Administration could have taken additional action to support legal, already approved, migration
  • No new enforcement programs nor increased border enforcement. This is flawed logic when there are many human rights violations and lack of due process that is already occurring with current programs and practices. 
We will continue to fight for racial justice and immigrant rights, “until we all win.”

Haitian-Americans Receive Long Awaited Visa Program to Reunite Family Members After 5 Years of National Advocacy

Oct 21, 2014   //   Black Migration News, Blog, caribbean, haiti, Opal Tometi  


Haitian-Americans Receive Long Awaited Visa Program to Reunite Family Members After 5 Years of National Advocacy

[New York, NY – Friday October 17th, 2014]  Advocates of the Reunite Haitian-American Families Campaign have achieved a significant victory in the October 17th Department of Homeland Security announcement of a Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program (HFRP). Prior to this federal announcement longstanding support for FRPP grew from key national efforts like the Reunite Haitian American Families Campaign that is sponsored by the national coalition Black Immigration Network, which includes organizations such as the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees and Haitian Women of Miami.

Co-Chair of the Reunite Haitian-American Families Campaign and Executive Director of BAJI, Opal Tometi explains, “Immigrant rights organizations launched the campaign as the domestic and international Haitian community dealt with the powerful earthquake that shook the Haitian capital of Port au-Prince. Living conditions began to worsen as communities displaced to tents began to number into the hundreds of thousands. This fragile situation degraded further with the onset of a cholera outbreak from unscreened UN troops.”

While Haitian visa recipients stayed on waiting lists, some for over a decade, a call went out for a Family Reunification Parole program that would expedite family reunification by allowing already approved visa recipients legal entrance into the U.S. to reunite  with their family members.

The Department of Homeland Security has responded to the demands of immigrants groups and the Reunite Haitian-American Families campaign. Members of this campaign believe this is an important step that expedites the process for those beneficiaries whose visas are within two years of being current. However, advocates have shown that many of the 110,000 Haitians have been on the waiting list for as many as 12 years.  Depending on the implementation approach and the way the program is structured it is estimated that the program will cover 5,000 individuals.

Opal Tometi the Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration believes that, “It is clear that we are being heard, but it is important that we understand that this is just one step in our journey to get the needs of the Haitian-American community met. We will watch the Department of Homeland Security closely to see how they plan on implementing this program and call on them to proceed with a strategy to expedite the process for all Haitians who’ve already been approved.”

Advocates for the Haitian FRPP call for a broader program with the Cuban parole program as a model.

Support for a broad and comprehensive FRPP is resonating in a Haitian community that by 2009 reached 830,000 members across the country.

Marliene Bastien executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami/Haitian Women of Miami and Co-Chair of the Reunite Haitian-American Families Campaign  told the Miami Herald, “we will continue to work for the rest of the group who are qualified, to get them the opportunity to be reunited with their family members because they have been waited for so long.”

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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

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

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 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.”

Black Immigrants Join the Debate

Millions of African- and Caribbean-born people are missing from the immigration-reform conversation. A few of them tell The Root that they will not be shut out.

by Cynthia Gordon
Originally posted in the Root

On March 11, at a press conference on Capitol Hill, Tolu Olubunmi came out publicly as an undocumented immigrant for the first time.

“It’s been nerve-racking because it puts me at a risk,” the 30-year-old told The Root about her speech supporting Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) reintroduction of the DREAM Act. The bill, which passed in the House last year but failed to clear the Senate, would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented youths like her, brought to the United States as children. “But I think you have to focus on the individuals to get away from the politics of an issue that’s so divisive. Once you know that there are real people attached to the statistics, then you have to start working on real solutions.”

Olubunmi, who was born in Nigeria, is also one of 3 million black immigrants in this country. Despite moving from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America at a remarkable rate — and despite an estimated 400,000 having undocumented status — they are barely footnotes in an immigration-reform conversation that is usually framed as a Mexican-border issue. But in light of newer, smaller-but-growing communities, as well as recently granted protected status for Haitians in particular, black immigrants are becoming stronger voices, advocating for reform from their diverse perspectives.

Black Sojourners

According to a Population Reference Bureau report (pdf), about two-thirds of black immigrants to the U.S. are from the Caribbean and Latin America — mostly Jamaica, Haiti and Trinidad — with families that largely began settling in the United States from the 1960s through the ’80s. More recently there’s been a wave of African immigrants, with more arriving between 2000 and 2005 than in the previous decade. The top three countries from that continent are Nigeria, Ethiopia and Ghana.

Most black immigrants enter the United States legally, seeking education and job opportunities, either by joining immediate relatives who are U.S. citizens or by presenting student or tourist visas with an expiration date. Those who are undocumented often fall out of status by overstaying these visas.

As The Root noted in a previous article, Caribbean- and African-born blacks tend to be wealthier and more educated than other immigrants, a class difference that has kept many from joining Latinos in the immigration-reform movement. But in recent years, with more African and Caribbean people coming to the United States to flee political strife, civil violence and natural disasters, new groups are entering as refugees or asylum seekers. While only 3 percent of immigrants from Caribbean countries, mostly from Haiti, were admitted under the refugee category, nearly 30 percent of sub-Saharan Africans granted legal residence between 2000 and 2006 entered as refugees.

As these flows of people have come from countries like Somalia, Congo, Liberia and Haiti — without the same educational resources allowing them to flourish — many have run into trouble navigating a slow-moving and restrictive immigration system.

Who Gets In?

Although immigration from Africa and the Caribbean has grown rapidly over the past decade, having contributed to at least one-fifth of America’s black population growth between 2000 and 2005 alone, there are anecdotal arguments that the process is infused with racism and works less efficiently for black people.

Sheryl Winarick, an immigration attorney in Washington, D.C., suggests that the largest hurdles for blacks in the immigration system, particularly those fleeing poverty or civil strife, usually arise from the economic situation in their countries. She explained that most visas require proof that an individual plans to return home after a temporary visit to the U.S.

“Anyone that’s coming from a developing country has a harder time demonstrating their intent to just visit instead of staying permanently,” she told The Root. “If you don’t own a home or have a steady flow of income to go back to, then the government assumes you’re more likely to want to stay here permanently and find work.”

On the other hand, Phil Hutchings, an organizer with Oakland, Calif.’s Black Alliance for Just Immigration, which lobbies for immigrants’ rights, believes that race is always in play. “It factors into whether you get through speedily or whether there’s a lot of circumspection,” he says.

“People who go against the norm of what Americans are ‘supposed to look like’ — and that generally includes black people — have more difficulty,” he continues. “Also, a fair number of African immigrants are Muslim, putting them in a suspect category that makes it harder for them to come here.”

An African Dreamer

For her part, Olubunmi says her challenges stemmed from a rigid policy that makes it impossible for undocumented immigrants to rectify their situation once they fall out of legal status. When she was 14, her mother brought her to Maryland from Nigeria to escape political instabilities. The plan was for her aunt, a U.S. citizen, to adopt her.

“The plan was never to be undocumented,” she says, but the process hit a snag when her papers were filed late. It’s a common mishap. “When you file your paperwork, officials could say that you missed a deadline by a week or two, but they don’t actually respond to you for two or three years because of the backlog. People who are committed to doing the right thing get caught up, unbeknownst to them, in these basic flaws in the system. It’s pretty easy to fall through the cracks.”

Olubunmi graduated from high school at the top of her class and then from college, earning a chemical engineering degree. She anticipated filing her papers with a company that would hire her as an engineer, only to learn that she couldn’t legally get a job. “The law says that if you’re undocumented, you cannot adjust your status while living in the U.S.,” she says. “I’d have to go to Nigeria to sort out the conflict; then, once I got there, it would trigger a three-to-10-year bar from returning to this country. But this is my home.”

Since 2008, Olubunmi has volunteered with various advocacy organizations, working behind the scenes for comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act in particular. “We’re not asking for a free pass,” she says, explaining that many would-be beneficiaries were brought over as babies or toddlers.

“People always say, ‘Get in line.’ Well, the DREAM Act creates a line,” she says. “These students are saying that they will do whatever they have to, if it’s going to college or serving in the military. They are just asking for an opportunity to prove themselves worthy of the country they love.”

A Rising Haitian Voice

David Faustin, 45, says he had a smooth process coming to the United States from Haiti 22 years ago. He acquired his green card upon marrying his wife, who already had permanent residency, and became a citizen after 10 years of marriage. But as the pastor of a Washington, D.C. church with largely Haitian congregants, he has helped many of them through a far more difficult course.

When a devastating earthquake plunged the island into further despair in 2010, he was relieved by the Obama administration’s decision to grant Temporary Protected Status for Haitians who had already been living in the U.S., allowing them to stay here legally and suspending deportations.

“The church brought in lawyers like Ms. Winarick to help people who were scared of applying for TPS because they were of unlawful status,” he tells The Root. “They thought it was a way for immigration officials to know where they live.”

This month, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would extend TPS for Haitians, which was scheduled to expire in July, for another 18 months. The department also expanded it to include Haitians who came here up to one year after the 2010 earthquake. “Having protected status is helping a lot of Haitian people to not only make it here and contribute to the American economy, but also to send money to other people back home and help them survive,” says Faustin.

Furthermore, it has empowered more Haitians to organize around immigration reform, partnering with immigrant-rights groups to build a powerful lobby. “In the past it was just the Hispanic community, but the Haitian community has become involved to advocate for what they would like to see happening for them,” says Faustin, citing, for example, amnesty for immigrants who once had legal status but are now unable to resolve their position. “As soon as the government gave them TPS, Haitians decided to take advantage of the momentum.”

Beyond the Border

Hutchings, of the 10-year-old Black Alliance, concurs that he’s seen other black-immigrant organizations mobilize in recent years, including San Francisco’s African Advocacy Network and Chicago’s Pan African Association. “In different parts of the country, black immigrants have developed enclosed communities just to themselves,” he says. “But at a certain point, a community realizes that it needs to reach out to develop allies and meet political officials. Their participation is really about people beginning to take responsibility for their own development in the United States.”

Olubunmi is heartened to see more people from African and Caribbean countries speaking out. “The majority of undocumented immigrants are Latino, but it’s important to recognize that there are different groups involved in this debate,” she says. “I remember once watching Bush talk about creating a path for folks who ‘come across the border.’ Well, if a bill is written from that perspective, it wouldn’t work for everybody.”

Ultimately, she knows that a system that works for everyone will require action from Washington. “I’m a huge supporter of President Obama, but I am very disappointed that we haven’t been able to get comprehensive immigration reform done,” she says.

While she understands that Congress must act, as the president demanded in his recent immigration-policy speech, she maintains that he has executive authority to make some changes himself — changes like stopping the deportation of undocumented “Dreamers.”

Until then, Olubunmi is committed to lending her voice to the struggle, even if it now means going public with her own status. “If it will help to raise consciousness, if it will help make life easier for other people,” she says with a quick, nervous laugh, “then I will lay myself at the altar.”

Teleconference IV: The Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latino Migrations to the U.S.

Black Alliance for Just Immigration & Priority Africa Network present
Black Intersections on Migration – Teleconference IV

Thursday, April 28th 12 PST : The Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latino Migrations to the U.S.

Janvieve Williams Comrie will discuss the historical, social and cultural dimensions of successive migration of Afro-Latinos/as and Afro-Caribbeans to the U.S. She will also shed light on the experience of these immigrants as they navigate the racial landscape of the U.S. society.

Janvieve Williams Comrie is the founder of the Latin American and Caribbean Community Center, she is dedicated to improving the conditions and opportunities for socially excluded and marginalized groups. Janvieve has worked throughout the Americas with communities on the ground and organizations to address the division and isolation faced by many of African descent and indigenous people, including low wageworkers, undocumented families and immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean in the United States, by building a political and critical consciousness while using a human rights framework.


1. Dial into the conferencing service

Toll-Free US/Canada: 1-866-931-7845

International Dial-in: 1-310-374-4949

2. Enter your conference code: 904167

Background to teleconference series: The United Nations has declared 2011 as the “International Year for Peoples of African Descent”. Ten years ago, landmark recommendations were made at the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban South Africa. In a four-part series of teleconferences that looks at the span of Black presence in the U.S. over the centuries, we will examine the unique migration experiences of the African Diaspora within the context of U.S. history and the current debate over immigration. The series brings provocative frameworks and analyses into the discussion about race and immigration that are seldom considered.