A comprehensive immigration reform bill passed the U.S. Senate three years ago but included no reference to Black immigrants. However, the Senate bill itself was weak and not supported by many Latino or Black organizations. More important, the national immigration reform conversation does not include continental Africans or those from Haiti, Latin America and the Caribbean.
Today’s column again underscores the need for public awareness and strong leadership about the unconscionable neglect of Black immigrants in the United States. Despite being passed by the U.S. Senate, immigration reform remains a highly controversial and is nowhere near a done deal. Unfortunately, African Americans also are divided on the immigration issue. Many feel, often with good cause, undocumented Latino immigrants get jobs and receive preferential treatment at their expense. (Employers who hire undocumented workers get a pass, are a major part of the problem.)
The Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), a group largely comprised of African Americans and Black immigrants, was formed in 2006 in the wake of an upsurge of public opposition to proposed repressive immigration reform legislation in Congress. BAJI’s mission: “To engage African Americans and other communities in dialogue that leads to action that challenges U.S. immigration policy and underlying issues of racism and economic inequity that frame the dialogue. We are also committed to bring African Americans in the Diaspora into the immigration rights debate by facilitating discussions with Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latino and African immigrants.”
BAJI believes it’s in the interest of African Americans to actively support immigrant rights and build coalitions with immigrant communities to further mutually beneficial economic and social justice. “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. U.S. immigration policy has been infused with racism, forcing unequal and punitive standards on immigrants of color; and immigration to the U.S. is driven by an unjust international, economic order that deprives people of the ability to earn a living and properly raise a family in their own countries.”
BAJI also believes through international trade, lending and investment policies, the U.S. government and large corporations are the main promoters and beneficiaries of an unjust economic order. African Americans, with a long history of being economically exploited, marginalized and discriminated against, have much in common with Africans and other people of color who migrate to the United States.
In 2009, BAJI and other immigrant rights groups convened the inaugural meeting of the Black Immigration Network (BIN). Fifty-one participants from 30 cities, 17 states, born in 16 different countries, met in Baltimore, Maryland. 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 explore ongoing networking and collaboration.
BIN’s vision statement: “To create a Black immigration network that encompasses people of African descent who reside in the United States. Since Africans in the diaspora have long-standing divisions, spurred by misconceptions and misunderstandings, it is important to share African American ancestry and similar experiences with racism and exploitation in the U.S, and globally, and build a common ground framework for common struggle. BIN can be an important space for gathering and ongoing strategizing, information-sharing and work for the benefit of all our communities.”
Major decisions in Baltimore included: To continue BIN as a national network-a Continuations Committee was formed to develop proposals for organizational structure, membership criteria and recruitment; developing a framework statement and a set of principles and 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.
Recently, BIN stepped up its work in L A by hiring a local coordinator and collaborating with community-based, labor and faith-based groups. The long-term goal includes changing the knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of a significant segment of the African American community about the root causes of immigration, immigrants’ stake in supporting fair and just immigration reform and the importance of building alliances with immigrant communities around a range of common issues.
Initially, BIN focused on supporting and engaging immigrants of African descent and challenging the invisibility of African, and Afro-Latino immigrants in the immigrant rights movement-and 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 proposed work in Los Angeles included three components: A training and technical assistance program targeting Black faith, labor and community organizers, a public education program targeting African Americans and the development of solidarity, advocacy and action.
BIN has held Webinars, national telephone conferences and worked with the Congressional Black Caucus to inject the needs and concerns of Black immigrants in the U.S. into the national immigration reform discussion.
BAJI and BIN are uniquely positioned to bring together African Americans and immigrants of African descent which is critical for moving their respective concerns from the periphery to the center of the national immigration reform conversation. Clearly, Black Americans and African Immigrants must work together in order to make this happen.
For more information, contact: Zack Mohamed, BIN Organizer, Los Angeles: Zack@blackalliance.org