Immigration Reform Is a Black Thing, Too – The Root

Your Take: Pitting black issues vs. immigrant issues is a false dichotomy.

Posted: Nov. 23 2014

The administrative relief measures that President Barack Obama announced Thursday will benefit an estimated four million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. This long awaited measure came several months after the president promised to take executive action in the absence of any cooperation by an obstructionist Congress to pass legislation.

What some, including The Root’s Charles Ellison, are calling a risky political concession to Latinos is really a much-needed executive action taken by the president that will benefit African, Caribbean, Afro-Latino immigrants and African Americans. As an immigrant rights activist and the daughter of Nigerian parents, the president’s decision is both politically and personally significant to me, my family and the communities that my organization—the Black Alliance for Just Immigration—fights for every day.

Black immigrants, African Americans and other communities of color are closely intertwined. Historically and currently, we win when fighting side by side for social progress, and now is not the time for us to be divided by the politics and tradeoffs that Ellison suggests. When taking into account the realities of anti-immigrant policy, including Voter ID laws and legalized racial profiling in measures such as Arizona’s SB1070, it is clear that immigrant rights are a racial justice issue, tied closely to the social and political priorities of African Americans.

The diversity of our immigrant identities in the black community is often obscured. Many of us adopt the identity of “African-American” when we are first-generation from Jamaica or Senegal, were brought here as children from Haiti or Belize or come from Ghana on a student visa and learn quickly to adopt American accents and styles of dress to more easily adapt. When we advocate for civil rights while choosing not to complicate the definition of what it means to be black leads us to the mistaken idea that immigrants and African Americans are mutually exclusive groups. The immigrant rights movement has largely focused on Latino issues, at times obscuring the realities of the many different faces of immigrants in this country and leading many of us to draw the mistaken conclusion that immigration should be a low priority.

Black immigrants, in particular, face the same conditions of inequity that African Americans do. Police, employers and bigots do not ask for a person’s country of origin before discriminating. Immigrant communities face the same neighborhood displacement as black communities in Washington, D.C. and New York City.

When one looks at black immigrants who suffer significantly higher deportation rates in cases of criminal apprehension than Asian, Middle Eastern or white immigrants—we see that racial profiling is at play. Under the Administration’s new executive action, we must acknowledge that increased immigration enforcement could lead to more policing in the neighborhoods that we all share.

To make matters worse, President Obama’s framing of “felons, not families” is bad for our communities. It is widely known that African Americans have long been victims of profiling, sentencing discrepancies, false arrests and worse. We believe that anybody—immigrant or otherwise—who may have a conviction should not be exiled from our communities. Regardless of the situation, we know what the legacy of criminalization has done to all black communities in this country. It’s left us weaker, fragmented and unable address longstanding issues. Not only is immigration a black issue, African Americans and immigrants of color are facing common threats, which we can defeat if we stand united.


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Blogger’s note:

 I wholeheartedly agree with the content of this article.

 My interpretation of the paragraph on felons is this one: Blacks are criminalized for being Black. So, when felons are the topic of conversations on immigration, a lot of innocent people are included in it, without any accounting for the rampant systemic discrimination in our country.


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