On March 20th we were happy to join the first ever immigration reform rally in front of the U.S. Capitol that brought together hundreds of African American allies and black immigrants from the Caribbean, Africa, Latin America and around the globe calling for inclusion and racial equity in immigration reform.
The rally was convened by The Black Immigration Network, Churches United to Save and Heal and The Black Institute in collaboration with 20 organizations including the NAACP, Families for Freedom, 32 BJ SEIU, and Women Supporting Women.
We were inspired by these aspiring citizens and their allies, and over the next few weeks we’ll share a few of their stories here.
In the meantime, here are new conversation themes their work is teaching us:
- Welcoming spaces and recognizing history. As more African American allies join the immigration conversation, creating a welcoming space means we don't assume all Americans identify with an "immigrant identity." The phrase “country of immigrants” does not acknowledge the history of African Americans and slavery and also that of Native Americans and people with roots in the Southwest prior to 1848. It's not just innacurate, but alienating.
- The value of moving for a better life. We can find common ground learning and sharing about the Great Migration, in which some six million black Americans migrated to cities in the north and west from the south's Jim Crow caste system between 1915 and 1970. Politics, art and culture of that migration changed the country and the world. It's a great time to revisit this history as more Asian and Latino immigrants move South and we witness the “reverse migration” of young black professionals moving South too.
- Full civic participation and citizenship for all. With African American and black immigrants coming together, the broader citizenship conversation now includes many intersections: a path to citizenship, protecting the Voting Rights Act and supporting efforts to restore rights to citizens with prior convictions.
- United to advance economic justice. Citizenship paves the way for more worker protections and less employee exploitation too. While black immigrants spend over $50 billion as consumers and come with more degrees and education than their counterparts, they have higher rates of unemployment than any other foreign-born group in the U.S. The fight for a more inclusive and fair American economy is something everyone can rally around.
- 10% of the immigrant population is black; they are at high risk for deportation. Black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean are detained and deported at 5 times the rate of undocumented people from other countries and backgrounds. As communities come together to protest "stop and frisk" and “show me your papers” measures, they are connecting the dots between local enforcement and deportation.
The immigrant rights movement is not a second coming of the Civil Rights movement of the 60s, but rather a continuation of work that has never really stopped. African Americans and allies of all backgrounds are joining immigrants to protect civil and human rights and ensure the gains of the Civil Rights movement are not reversed under the guise of immigration enforcement.
The time is ripe for new conversations and collaboration, together we Define American.