Immigration is a Black issue. This phrase became a rallying cry for Black and immigrant communities last month, as the nation witnessed anti-Black racism on full display in Del Rio, Texas. But communities like mine have known the truth behind this phrase for far too long: Although Black immigrants comprise one of the fastest-growing segments of the immigration population, the solutions devised in Washington fail to address the needs of our communities.
I suffer the consequences of these failures: despite coming to the United States more than ten years ago, I have no real pathway to citizenship. I provide policy advice to Senate leaders, yet I could not legally drive myself to those meetings until a few years ago. On a more human level, I am denied the opportunity to care for loved ones, enjoy the company and counsel of my parents, or celebrate the companionship of friends. I was even denied the chance to meet with the first African American and female vice president. These milestones bring unbearable pain. On the one hand, there is hope that I will be seen and on the other, the reality that I am peering through a looking glass, grasping but unable to be grasped.
As difficult as this experience is, it is the tip of the iceberg regarding the indignities faced by Black people. Like many Black immigrants, I am ineligible for any form of immigration reprieve, including DACA. The omission of people like me in immigration relief efforts is both a flaw and a fundamental feature of our immigration system: Black immigrants were not part of the efforts to design DACA or previous immigration relief efforts, and, as such, our needs were not addressed. These omissions are layered on top of a system that a federal court recently acknowledged as fundamentally racist. Too many “experts” on immigration do not understand how being Black, and immigrant make me and others like me vulnerable to the same criminalization and abuse as Black people born in this country. This puts Black immigrants at heightened risk of exploitation and deportation.
If not for the crisis facing Haitians at the border, many people would still question me when I say that immigration is indeed a Black issue. While Haiti is fresh in our psyche, it would be detrimental to Haitian asylum seekers to neglect to see the broader scope of challenges facing diverse populations of Black immigrants. As much as Haitian migrants want relief, they understand the impact of America’s immigration crisis on fellow Black immigrants at and within the border.
In 2021, it only takes a small detail to expand or restrict the freedom of many. If immigration is as vital as Democrats say it is, they must use this moment to offer true protection for those who are undocumented. With that backdrop in mind, I say boldly and unequivocally that any plan to address the immigration crisis must be considered with Black people in mind. For instance, if policymakers focus on expanding access to only specific population segments, they will deny scores of Black immigrants any form of relief.
Many Black immigrants were not brought to the U.S. as children, making them ineligible for DACA in its current form. Still, others are migrants from countries in the African diaspora, not recognized by programs such as Temporary Protected Status and can get no reprieve or be cut short as Obama did for Sierra Leone and Guinea. We are here, but the conventional practice has been that we are not worthy of access to protection, much less citizenship.
For them and me, the White House must pass an immigration package that ensures green cards for all undocumented people. Sen. Schumer must use his institutional knowledge and decades of experience to pass a budget reconciliation bill that centers the experience of immigrants, including Black people. For her part, Vice President Kamala Harris must use her authority to cast a deciding vote in favor of green cards. Moreover, she must use the power to ensure such language gets a vote and is passed into law.
We will continue to fight, calling to memory the legacy of civil rights giants with a Black immigration story like mine: Stokely Carmichael, Shirley Chisholm and Marcus Garvey. Because of their work and leadership, I understand that the fight for freedom does not begin or end at the border. The policy must speak to the needs of Black people across the diaspora. Policymakers can do this with a stroke of a pen and a term that begins with “green” and ends with “card.” Because when it comes to immigration, conventional wisdom (that we must settle) is wrong.
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