Congressional Black Caucus FoundationSupplements

BARTELS-MILLS: The Invisible Plight of Black Immigrants in America

From Minnesota state Rep. Ilhan Omar — a former refugee who became the first Somali-American legislator in the United States — to the first black president whose father was Kenyan, black immigrants play a crucial role in shaping the black narrative in America. However, their unique experiences and contributions, as well as the problems they face, are often overlooked by the black community and the broader American society. Black immigrants account for only 7 percent of the total immigrant population, yet they make up 10.6 percent of immigrants in removal proceedings from 2003 to 2015. Mass criminalization, deportation, detention, and socioeconomic strife are the biggest issues facing black immigrants. As we grapple with the reality of a post-Obama era, African- and Caribbean-born immigrants are unfortunately suffering from harsh immigration policies such as President Trump’s executive order, which temporarily banned the citizens of seven Muslim majority countries from entering the U.S. — three of these being the African countries of Sudan, Somalia, and Libya. While Trump’s effort to enforce this order has faced several roadblocks, the war on immigrants continues — especially with the rise of Islamophobia and xenophobic rhetoric in our nation. More than ever, our current political climate puts black immigrant communities at an even higher risk for legal and socioeconomic injustices.

Black immigrants are disproportionately affected and/or targeted by immigration laws — this coupled with the anti-blackness and discrimination already ingrained in American institutions leads to higher rates of deportation, incarceration, and detention. Racial profiling is a key factor in the mass criminalization of black immigrants — which also explains why 58 percent of deported immigrants have a criminal record. According to the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) report on the state of black immigrants, black immigrants account for only 7.2 percent of the noncitizen immigrant population, yet 20.3 percent of those facing detention on criminal grounds are black. Many are subjected to domestic policies such as “Stop and Frisk,” which can lead to unlawful detention and other compounding issues, such as the separation of fathers and mothers from their children, a subsequent lack of resources due to loss of income, and a lack of proper legal representation.

U.S.-born and foreign-born black populations experience higher rates of unemployment and poverty compared to U.S.-born whites. Often concentrated in the poorer neighborhoods of urban cities like New York City, black immigrants — especially those who are undocumented — must deal with low wages and a lack of worker’s rights. Working illegally or under-the-table can also be dangerous because there is no accountability on the part of the employer who may choose to exploit immigrant workers, and force them to work in deplorable conditions. Moreover, communication barriers and lack of access to healthcare and transportation are among the most prominent challenges facing black immigrants.

However, local and national organizations such as the UndocuBlack Network are working diligently to fight for the rights of black immigrants by providing legal services and other resources for families facing detention, deportation, and other issues. These types of networks have already laid the groundwork to formulate more expansive approaches to these problems. We must not forget that black immigrants are an integral part of the black American narrative. Whether it is here in America or another part of the world, it is important that we build a black collective amongst different black communities in order to promote awareness of each other’s struggles, as well as take proactive steps to empower and protect each other.

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