For Black immigrants, Black History Month was grueling. It was riddled with the usual myriad of anti-Black sentiments and unfettered white supremacy, manifested with deportation flights and deliberate delays in moving life-altering legislation and temporary protected status designations forward. Yet we ended the month with even heavier hearts than when we entered it. As a network of currently and formerly undocumented Black immigrants, we stand in solidarity with Black migrants who are fleeing Ukraine and facing anti-Black discrimination. We also condemn Russia’s unprovoked invasion as yet another act of imperialism that will cause irreparable harm. We are keenly aware that condemning this war and all forms of militarism and naming the blatant cruelty that Black migrants face are not mutually exclusive. The two are, in fact, intimately connected.
As Black people, we are all too familiar with the extent of physical, economic and societal damage that comes from white men deciding they are entitled to sovereign territories and, in some cases, independent human lives. That barbaric sense of entitlement, the very concept of borders and the arbitrary standards of deciding who gets to move about freely from one place to another are rooted in white supremacy. They inform the age-old pattern of invasion, occupation, subjugation of indigenous populations and the regulation of the basic human instinct to migrate. For those who come from countries that have experienced one, or multiple, stages of that pattern, watching the situation in Ukraine has been particularly difficult. Some versions of colonialism, militarism and imperialism at the hands of the former Soviet Union (now Russia), the United States and its NATO allies have created the vast majority of the world’s refugee and asylum-seeking populations.
In the past few days, we have witnessed an added layer of racism to this crisis. We have seen news reporters and world leaders invoke empathy with refugee populations for the first time in decades because of their perceived whiteness and proximity to “civilized” Europeanness. Seeing that while simultaneously watching images of Black students being pushed to the back of lines at entry points into Poland invoke images of Black asylum seekers camping in makeshift shelters at the U.S. southern border. The images of Black babies being forced to wait for hours in single-digit temperatures before being allowed on trains to safe zones invokes images of Black babies on Title 42 deportation flights headed back toward imminent danger.
We are reminded yet again that immigration is a Black issue, and it is global. Anti-Blackness is universal and endemic to every form of immigration enforcement. It is a poison that festers in the hearts of decision-makers who see humanity in the blue eyes of Ukrainian refugees and see inferiority in a Nigerian student’s dark skin. Whether at the U.S./Mexico border or Ukraine’s border with Poland and other neighboring countries, Black migrants always bear the heaviest brunt of this cruelty.
As the immigrant rights community moves toward a unified call for welcoming Ukrainians fleeing the war and protecting Ukrainians in the U.S. from deportation, it is irresponsible for any organization to avoid naming the vulnerability of Black immigrants within this conflict. With Black History Month over, we know the national spotlight on Black lives will fade, leaving anti-Blackness and erasure of the Black experience to return as status quo. While the international community rightfully rallies around Ukrainian refugees, nothing less than a radical change of current U.S. and international policy would constitute true justice: a world where refugees from all countries fleeing violence and imperialism are welcome anywhere. As the Biden administration perpetuates its own version of anti-Blackness within the U.S. immigration system, any call for the protection of Ukrainian refugees is hypocritical without specifically acknowledging the experiences of Black migrants both here and in Ukraine.
Haddy Gassama, Esq. is the National Director of Policy and Advocacy at UndocuBlack Network and an advocate with a demonstrated history of working in the fields of Human Rights, Gender Equity, and Immigration Law.