Immigration and the Black Community: Finding Synergy to Promote Progress

Immigration and the Black Community: Finding Synergy to Promote Progress

Congress and the Obama administration are wrestling with how to deal with the surge of Central American children fleeing escalating gang violence in their native countries and crossing the US-Mexico border into the United States to escape. While it is true that violence has skyrocketed in recent months in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and Panama, it has been an ongoing and pervasive problem in those troubled developing nations. But what is really driving the influx of children, in particular, are lawless human traffickers purposefully spreading misinformation about the United States’ deferred deportation policy for children of undocumented immigrants currently in the US who were brought here by their parents.

In June 2012, frustrated about a contentious Congress’ inability to pass a comprehensive immigration reform package created by the Democrats, President Obama issued an executive order that instructed the Department of Homeland Security and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency not to deport certain immigrant children here unlawfully. Those children who qualified under the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” policy and came forward were given a temporary status and a work visa. However, the status only benefited those who have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007 and was present in the US on June 15, 2012. New border crossers do not qualify.

Facts don’t matter to opportunistic smugglers who used some of the language in the policy to convince parents that the US was accepting children to immigrate there. Their misinformation campaign persuaded parents to willingly pay the smugglers to shepherd their kids into the US. Since October 1, an estimated 57,000 children have crossed into the US.

Immigration is that contentious issue that no one wants to touch and it has also incensed many African Americans who say they are frustrated that on the same week there was record gun violence deaths in Chicago, the nation shifted to focus on children of “outsiders.” Consider that the White House requested an estimated $3.7 billion funding package to staff more agents, judges, and workers to process the children and return them to their homes. The money would be to supplement depleting resources and funds of an agency going broke, and to expedite the return of the kids.

To have them stay too long during processing, Nancy Pelosi and other politicians have said, would send the dangerous message that all they need to do is cross the border and they’d get to stay for a couple of years and possibly slip away into the shadows. That outcome would open the flood gates to more unaccompanied minors in the future. A senior U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official told The Washington Post the goal is to process the immigrants and have them deported within 10 to 15 days to send a message back to their home countries that there are consequences for illegal immigration

The passions that enflame over immigration is perhaps why African and Caribbean undocumented immigrants in the United States have stayed quiet on the issue. You don’t see their communities joining with the Latino and Hispanic advocates demanding immigration reform.

“There is reluctance on the part of the Caribbean community to become too vocal on the topic out of being too associated with the challenges and misconceptions of ‘undocumented’ Latino – particularly Central American – immigrants in the West,” said veteran political strategist and commentator Charles Ellison. “They don’t view themselves that way and they don’t want the society viewing them that way either.” Africans do rally immigration reform issues outwardly, at times, Ellison added. And in recent weeks, we have seen some African-American leaders such as Al Sharpton call on African Americans to join the Latino American fight for a fair immigration policy.

Right now, as civil rights icon Angela Davis put it in recent years, there is somewhat of a disconnect between the Black struggle for equality and that of Latinos where a lot of Black people feel like: “That’s not my fight.”

A recent public policy poll indicated that a majority of blacks, 58%, support the controversial Arizona immigration law that would have permitted the police to request verification of the legal residence or citizenship status of motorists stopped for routine traffic violations. But leaders like Sharpton are urging African Americans to consider Black migrants from Africa and the Caribbean who account for 15% of the immigrant population. Around 400,000 black immigrants in the United States are here without legal status. Sharpton has also said on his radio and television show that the black immigrants would likely become allies to the plight and cause that African Americans face.

Ellison agrees with Sharpton’s perspective.

“There are natural connections between the Diaspora migrant communities and the African-American community,” Ellison added. “Plus, he [Sharpton] sees an opening here to increase African American or Black voting numbers – right now, census counts are potentially low-balled since there are a lot of African and Caribbean migrants that are not lumped together with Black Americans – some have said that the total Black population may be on par or even slightly greater than the Latino population if you count African and Caribbean migrants. “

But, tension is still there.

“African Americans highly respect Caribbeans and Africans, but you can sense envy because there is the perception that Caribbean/African migrants come to the U.S. and are so successful so fast,” added Ellison who writes forseveral websites including The Root and The Philly Tribune. “Part of that is you have modern Diaspora and island societies that are, for the most part, all-Black and run by Black people—for better or for worse—and that has an impact on thinking, confidence levels, motivations.”

Meanwhile, Ellison notes that African Americans have had to deal directly and consistently on a personal, psychological, emotional, economic, cultural and political level with Whites for centuries.

“That has an impact whether we admit to it or not,” he added while noting that African and Caribbean immigrants would quickly criticize Black Americans for not taking full advantage of the opportunities here in the states or certain of ‘their ways.’”

Still, he doesn’t think it’s significant enough to be destructive.

And the likelihood of this group becoming allies with and empathizing with struggles of African Americans can be seen in the fact that Black immigrants, being the most educated of all immigrant groups, still face high levels of unemployment and struggle, possibly because they encounter discrimination and racism that African Americans have been dealing with all their lives here in the US.

The synergies and natural connections are there. Now if only the two communities can find their way to support one another and jump aboard the immigration reform fight bandwagon there could be mutually beneficial progress.