Immigration reform is an intractable, highly contentious issue in Congress and cities with large numbers of immigrants. However, the debate around immigrant rights has excluded Black immigrants, which is totally unacceptable.
African Americans, like most other groups, are all over the map on immigration reform. Many Blacks feel “illegal aliens” (Latino undocumented immigrants) take their jobs and receive undeserved preferential treatment at their expense. Festering negative impressions of undocumented immigrants is often based on misinformation which tends to worsen resentfulness and hostility.
The Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), a group comprised of African Americans and Black immigrants was formed in 2006 in the wake of the upsurge of public opposition to proposed repressive immigration reform in Congress. BAJI’s mission is, “To engage African Americans and other communities in dialogue that leads to actions that challenge U.S. immigration policy and the underlying issues of race, racism and economic inequity that frame it. We are also committed to bringing the voice of the African Diaspora into the immigrant rights debate by facilitating discussions with Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latino and African immigrants.”
BAJI members believe it is in the interest of African Americans to actively support immigrant rights and to build coalitions with immigrant communities to further the mutual cause of economic and social justice. Members are united on four points: All people regardless of immigration status, country of origin, race, color, creed, gender or sexual orientation deserve human rights as well as social and economic justice; historically and currently, U.S. immigration policy has been infused with racism, forcing unequal and punitive standards for immigrants of color; immigration to the U.S. is driven by an unjust international economic order that deprives people of the ability to earn a living and raise their families in their home countries.
BAJI also believes that through international trade, lending, aid and investment policies, the U.S. government and corporations are the main promoters and beneficiaries of this unjust economic order; African Americans, with a history of being economically exploited, marginalized and discriminated against, have much in common with people of color who immigrate to the United States, documented and undocumented.
In April 2009, BAJI and other immigrant rights groups convened the inaugural meeting of the Black Immigration Network (BIN). Fifty-one participants from 30 cities and 17 states born in 16 different countries met in Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, D.C. The goals were: 1) to examine critical issues around African American and immigrant relations, especially the relations between African Americans born in the U.S. and immigrants of African descent; 2) to strategize about ways to address immigration issues and other key social and political issues facing our communities; 3) to foster intergroup cohesion and to explore ongoing networking and collaboration.
BIN’s vision is, “To create a Black immigration network that encompasses people of African descent who reside in the United States. Africans of the diaspora have longstanding divisions, spurred by misconceptions and misunderstandings. Shared African ancestry and similar experiences with racism and exploitation, in the U.S. and globally, constitutes a potential common framework for a common struggle. BIN can be an important space for gathering the African diaspora for ongoing strategizing, information-sharing and work for the benefit of all of our communities.”
The major decisions by BIN participants included: To continue BIN as a national network. (A Continuations Committee was formed to develop proposals for an organizational structure, membership criteria and recruitment, etc.); developing a framework statement and a set of principles and specific recommendations for humane immigration reform; focusing on relationship and alliance-building between and among African American communities and communities of African, Afro-Latino and Afro-Caribbean immigrants.
Currently, BAJI is developing a 2011-2012 plan to work in Los Angeles by collaborating with community-based labor and faith-based groups. The long-term goal is to change the knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of a significant section of the African American community about the root causes of immigration, their stake in supporting fair and just immigration reform and the importance of building alliances with immigrant communities around a range of common issues.
BAJI’s particular emphasis is on supporting and engaging immigrants of African descent. It is critical to acknowledge and challenge the invisibility of African, Afro-Latino and Afro-Caribbean immigrants within the immigrant rights movement. Another priority is to elevate the concerns, barriers and inherent challenges these immigrants face by capitalizing on the diversity of immigrants from all parts of the world.
The work will include three components: A training and technical assistant program targeting Black faith, labor and community organizers; a public education program targeting African Americans and; solidarity, advocacy and action.
The Black Alliance for Just Immigration is a singularly important source for bringing together African Americans and immigrants of African descent. Sustainable collaboration between and among these groups has been absent but is essential for moving African American and Black immigrants’ concerns from the periphery to the center of the national immigration reform debate.
(For further information contact Gerald Lenoir, BAJI Executive Director, (510) 663.2254; e-mail Gerald@blackalliance.org.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.