Disclaimer: This is a student blog post. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the University of Maryland or any of its employees.
When someone mentions the word “immigrant” or “undocumented,” what image comes to your mind? It is safe to say that for most people, it is the face of a mestiza/o Latina/o, but why is this so? There are more than 3 million black immigrants in the U.S, comprising 8 percent of the U.S foreign-born population (CAP, 2012). Of these 2 million black immigrants, it is estimated that 400,000 are in the United States without status (CAP, 2012). Why should we care?
Black immigrants and black undocumented immigrants have historically been left out of the U.S immigration narrative, failing to represent the broader, more complex state of U.S immigration. What and/or who has excluded black immigrants from sharing their stories and contributing to the creation of the U.S. immigrant narrative? Unfortunately, black immigration is usually not covered or discussed in the mainstream media, but the immigrant rights movement also contributes to the exclusion of black immigrants. Immigrant reform groups, protests, and other organized actions are usually conducted in Spanish and rarely are African/Caribbean language translators available (Ndugga-Kabuye, 2016). Black rights movements and groups, such as Black Lives Matter and NAACP, often do not work on the area of immigrant rights, leaving “no space” for Black immigrants to engage in the struggle for civil rights on either end.
Black immigrants face many challenges in the United States, which are similar to but often unique from the Latino/o immigrant experience. Black immigrants earn lower wages than other similarly trained immigrant worker and have the highest unemployment rate, 12.5 percent, of any immigrant group in the United States (CAP, 2012). In addition, some proposed immigration reforms, including reductions in “family-based admissions and elimination of the diversity visa lottery” would negatively affect the flow of back immigrants into the Unites States and bar them from legal entrance. The exclusion of Black immigrant perspectives from dialogues and actions on immigration leads to the neglection of addressing and fighting for issues specific to this community.
I believe that the immigrant rights movement in the United States would strengthen significantly with the inclusion of 3 million additional voices. Many black immigrants are “stepping up” and “coming out” as undocumented immigrants in order to fight for legislation such as the Dream Act (American Progress, 2012), but how can we ensure that immigrant groups and activists are understanding and inclusionary of these newly “out” undocumented men and women.
How can we harness this eagerness for reform and activism, while bridging the historical disconnect between Latina/o immigrants and Black immigrants? One approach to addressing this issue is to work on creating a sense of solidarity and comprehension amongst Black and Latina/o undocumented and immigrant youth through programming and organizing. Immigrant youth, both Black and Latina/o, should be provided with a medium for cross-cultural communication, in which they can engage in dialogue that explores the struggles and identities of each group. In fostering the creation of these dialogues and relationships, we can work towards the creation of inter-group solidarity.
When each respective group understands the plight of the other, it will be invested in supporting the other in its fight for justice. There is power in numbers. There is power in 3 million.
Faris, Helina. “5 Fast Facts About Black Immigrants in the United States.” Name. Center for American Progress, 20 Dec. 2012. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
Fulwood, Sam, III. “Overlooked Story of Black Immigrants in the United States Deserves Attention.” Name. N.p., 1919 Feb. 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
Ndugga-Kabuye, Benjamin. “What About Us?: The Black Immigrant Narrative.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 09 Feb. 2016. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.