New York City, New York. 15 Jan 2018. A protester at the 'Rally Against Racism: Stand Up for Haiti and Africa' held on Martin Luther King's Birthday in Times Square. Credit: Nancy Kaszerman/ZUMA Wire/Alamy Live News

Disparities in US immigration policy show Black immigrants face biases

4 mins read

The experiences and voices of Black immigrants from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, are largely invisible in the current tumultuous immigration climate of the US. Several key organizations work to fill in erasure by offering services that grant migrants a fighting chance amidst criminalization.

Statistics show that African Afro-Latino and Caribbean immigrants are at a disadvantage when examining U.S. action taken against the two groups.

From 2010-2014, a total of 232,000 undocumented immigrants from the Caribbean entered the United States, according to a 2016 report from the Migration Policy Institute. The majority  of these immigrants emigrate from the Dominican Republic with 98,000 immigrants, Jamaica with 59,000 immigrants, and Haiti with 7,000 immigrants.

Significant disparities were reported between the number of unauthorized immigrants who entered the US, and those approved under the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA).

98,000 undocumented Dominicans arrived in the U.S. in 2014, but as of 2016, only 13,000 undocumented youth were eligible for DACA. Out of the 3,463 applications submitted to DACA, only 2,907 were approved.

Although, 59,000 undocumented Jamaican immigrants arrived in the U.S. in 2014, as of 2016, only 9,000 were eligible for DACA. With 4,155 of these immigrants who applied, only 3,928 applications were approved.

Benjamin Ndugga-Kabuye, research and advocacy manager for Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), cites many formalities within DACA and Deferred Action for Parental Arrivals (DAPA) leading to inaction within the current immigration climate.

“I think for Black immigrants in particular there was a general distrust of the government. What people must understand is that DACA/DAPA required giving up very detailed information about yourself,” Ndugga-Kabuye said. “Immigrants from the Caribbean in particular represent communities that have long history in the US, so for many undocumented Black immigrants who are older, they may not have been eligible at all.”

Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) has offices in New York, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Miami. It should be noted that Miami and New York have the highest population of Caribbean immigrants.

Ndugga-Kabuye further states,“Funding and support for immigration largely flows to non-Black organizations so the necessary outreach for the people who were eligible was not there… There are very few Black led organizations that directly advocate for Black immigrants and they often receive minimal support.”

The Washington Post also reported from BAJI sources, that Black immigrants who apply for DACA are less likely to be approved than their non-Black counterparts. The two countries that have the highest amount of DACA applications with Black populations are in the Caribbean, which include Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

Removal, Criminal Charges, and Return Disparities

The term “deportation” is commonly designated to  someone living in the U.S. who is officially ejected from the country. Yet in 1996, it  was replaced with “removal.” Another term, “return,” applies when an immigrant is turned back from U.S. borders; formally replacing “voluntary departure.”

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), between 1943-2010, the amount of returns always exceeded the amount of removals, as per the newly applied definitions for deportation and voluntary departure.

For the first time in over 50 years, the  balance between removals and returns changed. From 2011-2016, the amount of removals was consistently higher than the returns.

In fact, the amount of removals was three times the amount of returns in 2016.

In that same year, within the amount of people removed, a total of nearly 98% of removals comprised people from Caribbean and Latin American countries combined. Around 40% of those individuals removed faced criminal charges.

“Increased deportation was just the natural occurrence. While Obama set a record, Bush II had the record before him, and Clinton before that. What we were seeing is the natural trend when a nation chooses cages as its central policy position,” Ndugga-Kabuye said. “Black immigrants make up a large percentage of removals because anti-Blackness is a global phenomenon, this country in particular has [been] targeting Black immigrants because allied with Black Americans they have historically been a source of rebellion.”

According to the Americas Society / Council of the Americas, El Salvador has the highest immigration rate in the Western Hemisphere. For every 100 Salvadorans, 24 will be migrating to another country.

However, a total of 20,127 undocumented Salvadoran immigrants were removed from the United States in 2016, 6,681 of whom faced criminal charges.

By contrast, the combined population of those returned to Latin American and Caribbean countries amounted to only 41% of returns that same year. Only 452 Salvadorans were returned. By definition, none of these returned individuals faced criminal charges.

By 2019, over 260,000 legal Salvadoran immigrants may lose their Temporary Protected  Status (TPS). The approximate total number of legal Latin American immigrants in danger of losing their TPS status amounts to 400,000.

Despite these facts, Black and Latino immigrants are the most criminalized in mainstream U.S. media outlets. In 2017, Forbes reported that 83% of mainstream media representations  showcasing unlawful acts were allegedly committed by Black and Latino immigrants. They also revealed that mainstream media outlets depicted 38% of Latino immigrants as “incarcerated.”

Organizations trying to help those affected by this issue

UndocuBlack Network is another organization, consisting of multigenerational, undocumented, and once-undocumented Black immigrants.Their mission is to facilitate access to resources for the undocumented Black community, as well as, ‘Blackify [the] United States’ understanding of the undocumented population.”

Since much of the narrative and news around immigrant discourse focuses on non-black, Latin Americans, the organization provides a lens into the experiences of Black migrants.

On July 26, the UndocuBlack Network, reported the release of an organization member and Ghanian, Sadat Ibrahim, after a detention period of 921 days. Ibrahim was transferred to different detention centers five times and is a openly gay Black immigrant. He is now able to apply for asylum in the U.S. as he immigrated to escape persecution.

According to a report from the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, immigrant-detainees who are LGBTQIA are twice as likely to be victims of sexual assault than their heterosexual counterparts. Many of these queer detainees are also likely to be put in solitary confinement.

Ibrahim, released on a $10,000 bond, is in disbelief, “I still don’t believe I am a free person today.” Ibrahim recalled. “[Immigration officials were] playing games with my life and the lives of many others.”

BAJI will be hosting a panel on Black immigrants on August 2, at the Netroots Nation’s annual gathering of progressions. This year, the event takes place in New Orleans.

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Jesse Shramenko covers current news.

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