“Stay away from Bobby’s Department store over in Brooklyn. There are ICE agents over there rounding Caribbean people up.”
Messages like this began circulating in my social media sphere around February of 2018. Legislators and police disproved those specific reports. However, the fear and anxiety that enabled these Facebook rumors to spread are very real.
As the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, growing up in a Caribbean neighborhood, I have watched friends, family, neighbors, and partners dealing with issues related to their immigration status my whole life. And as anti-immigrant and anti-Black sentiments proliferate under this political climate, it feels increasingly important to ask, how can we stop erasing Black folks from conversations around immigration?
1. Look Beyond the “Wall”
Trump’s controversial proposal to “build a wall” has been the focus of countless conversations. However, if we exclusively pay attention to the Southern border, we risk overlooking the numerous other policies this administration has proposed and enacted that deeply impact the lives of immigrants, especially Black immigrants.
For instance, there are currently tens of thousands of Haitian immigrants at risk for removal from the United States. After the 2010 earthquake, 50,000 Haitians were granted a protected immigration status for people who are unable to safely return to their home country. Under the Trump administration, there is a significant risk of those protections being revoked. This would mean people who have been here for years, building lives and ties in this country, including having US-born children, would be sent back to an island that is still reeling from natural disasters. It is critical we widen our scope in conversations around immigration in order to be aware of, and advocate for, multiple vulnerable communities.
More Radical Reads: 9 Ways to Fight on Behalf of Immigrants Now
Recognize How Systems of Oppression Interlock and Reinforce Each other
Growing up, I had several friends whose family members were arrested for charges unrelated to their immigration status and were subsequently deported. Immigration policies and practices do not exist in a vacuum. They are interlinked with other systems of power. The fact is that Black undocumented immigrants are vulnerable to state surveillance and violence, because Black folk in general are vulnerable to state surveillance and violence. They are racially profiled and have a more difficult immigration process. This results in disproportionate rates of Black immigrant detention and deportation. From 2013 to 2015, Black immigrants made up only 5.4 percent of the undocumented population, yet comprised 10.6 of all newcomers in removal proceedings.
From correctional officers acting as ICE agents, to the sharing of data between DMVs and immigration enforcement, we are witnessing the convergence of more and more systems of surveillance and policing. These exchanges can have far reaching impacts. The Associated Press recently released leaked emails from officials in the Department of Homeland Security requesting data on Haitian immigrants’ use of public benefits and crime statistics. Various activists have argued that this data might be being used to justify a decision to revoke the Haitian immigrants’ protective status. We must pay attention to how government agencies and structures are working in conjunction with one another in order to police black and brown bodies of all immigration statuses.
Who are we counting as Black?
I have family members from Jamaica who never identified as Black before they immigrated to America. Who identifies or gets counted as Black in this country is a complex issue – especially when it comes to immigrants. In a report compiled by The Black Alliance for Just Immigration and The NYU Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, “The State of Black Immigrants,” they define Black immigrants as “any person whose country of origin is located in Africa or the Caribbean” or (when Census data is available) anyone born outside the country who self identifies as “Black or African American alone.” With those definitions, they estimate there are around 3.7 million Black immigrants living in the US today.
It is critical to remember that the Black diaspora is extensive. When speaking about immigration, we must utilize an intersectional lens. There are Muslim and Latinx folk who identify as Black and un/documented people at the intersections of these identities often face multiple challenges.
More Radical Reads: 13 Realities As An Undocumented Immigrant During Trump
Intervene when marginalized folk are pit against marginalized folk
In late May, there were reports of flyers calling for Black Chicagoans to report undocumented residents to ICE authorities. The flyers claimed “sanctuary city policies …were destroying the Black community” and that Black people should be reporting “illegals” for cash rewards. The “ICE ‘EM” flyers reflect recent comments by Peter Kirsanow, of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, that Black men are more likely to be “in direct competition with undocumented immigrants” and they should stand against them. This argument completely sidesteps the multiple compounding factors that racial inequities in our country. Instead of finding and advocating for ways that to create a society where a broad array of people can access education, employment, and self-sufficiency, this stance posits that the solution for marginalized people is to displace other marginalized people from the “bottom rungs.” It distracts from broader systemic problems and instead incites division amongst communities that would benefit from solidarity frameworks and practices.
Get Familiar And Support Folk doing the Work
There are so many folks doing amazing activist work and utilizing intersectional frameworks to address the needs of Black immigrants in this country. Please research and support them! The Black Alliance for Just Immigration engages with Black immigrant communities “to organize and advocate for racial, social, and economic justice.” The UndocuBlack Network is a grassroots organization ran by undocumented Black immigrants working to “’Blackify’ the undocumented immigrant narrative in the US” and to provide resources to the Black undocumented community. Additionally, there are folk such as Julio Salgado who are using their art to advocate for, and reflect, the multiple experiences of undocumented immigrants.
In a recent townhall meeting, ICE Director Thomas Homan stated that undocumented immigrants “should be afraid.” He made it clear that any undocumented immigrant could be arrested and deported at any time for any reason – “all people are on the table.” When this is the approach of the people targeting immigrants, those of us who are a part of, and wish to support these communities, must be as inclusive as possible in our efforts to push for more just policies and practices. And that means including Black undocumented immigrants in the conversation.
[Feature Image: An individual of brown complexion and long black hair is pictured crossing the street wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Source: Flickr]