Achieving Racial Justice in Immigration Reform

Uplifting Black Voices in the Immigration Reform Debate

Paper Prepared by

BLACK IMMIGRATION NETWORK
March 20, 2013

  BLACK IMMIGRANTS MATTER Increasingly, there has been a shift in the Black immigrant population in the U.S. This flow of blacks is comprised mostly of immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa. There are about 1.7 million Caribbean-born Black immigrants in the U.S. They represent just over half of all Black immigrants in the country; most come from Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Dominican Republic. There are about 1.1 million Black African immigrants, comprising 3 percent of the total US foreign-born population. Black Africans are among the fastest-growing groups of US immigrants, increasing by about 200 percent during the1980s and 1990s and nearly 100 percent during the 2000s. Overall, it is estimated that there are about 3 million Black immigrants, which comprises about 10 percent of the foreign-born population in the U.S. There is an estimated 400,000 undocumented black immigrants in the U.S.
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BLACK IMMIGRATION NETWORK Black Immigration Network (BIN), founded in 2009, is a national network of individuals and organizations serving black immigrant and African American communities focused on supporting fair and just immigration, as well as economic and social policies that benefit these communities and all communities of color and create a more just and equitable society. IMMIGRATION REFORM 2013 BIN recognizes that the current immigration system needs to be updated to reflect the current realities of 21st Century movement of people across borders. Regrettably, changes in law that would facilitate the dignified movement of people, were overlooked in the preceding decades of U.S. law change in support of “free-trade”. BIN believes that the U.S. government should begin reforming the immigration system by first acknowledging the tangible connection between free trade policies relating to goods and services and the increased migration of people into the country. Free trade policies have facilitated unfair competition between U.S. corporations and small business and companies in countries of Latin American, African and Asia, which has resulted in widespread poverty and mass migration to the U.S. BIN recommends four main principles for immigration reform. These principles are grounded in the real experiences of BIN members and their communities as they navigate the current immigration system. Moreover, these principles seek to address the injustice of government policies and social institutions that have severely presently and historically restricted Black citizenship- even outside of the current immigration process: 1) Family Reunification; 2) Ending the Criminalization of Migrants; 3) Ensuring Citizenship for Temporary Status Holders and Undocumented Migrants; and 4) Economic Justice for Black Communities.

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  FAMILY REUNIFICATION Family reunification must remain the cornerstone of U.S. immigration policy. Since 1965, family visas have been the primary way that people from other countries have qualified to enter the U.S. legally. In a country that espouses “family values”, priority must continue to be given the family members of naturalized citizens, including their spouses, minor children, parents, adult children and siblings who may be undocumented and have to face potential separation. In addition, the definition of family must be expanded to include nontraditional families that include children who are informally adopted and families that include same sex couples. The path to citizenship must include keeping families intact, including family members who have had past contact with law enforcement. END THE CRIMINALIZATION OF MIGRANTS The increase in mass incarceration in the U.S. disproportionately impacts people of color due to institutionalized racism, racial profiling and mandatory sentencing. In 2011, there were over 2.2 million people in U.S. prisons and jails. Another 4.8 million people were on probation or parole.1 The U.S. locks up the highest percentage of its population of any other country—716 per 100,000, according to a Sentencing Project report.2 The same report found that black men are incarcerated at a rate of 3,023 per 100,000, compared to 1,238 for Latino men and 478 for white men. The prison population has surged by 45% in the last 20 years, with the U.S. at 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s prison population. The socalled “War on Drugs” has disproportionately targeted African Americans. According to Census data, African Americans are 13.6% of the U.S. population, yet over 40% of the U.S. prison population.3 The mass detention and deportation of immigrants of color mirrors this trend. About 429,000 immigrants were rounded up and put into detention centers; 329,000 were deported4 as a result of Operation Streamline, an official policy that funnels immigrants into the criminal justice system and charges them with a felony or misdemeanor for crossing the border. All this is done without due process of law. To end criminalization, the Black Immigration Network believes that reform of immigration laws should include the following:                                                                                                                
Bulletin: Correctional Populations in the United States, 2011 by Lauren E. Glaze and Erika Parks. United States Justice Department, Office of Justice Program, Bureau of Justice Statistics. November 2012. Trends in U.S. Corrections: State and Federal Prison Population, 1925-2011 by Sentencing Project. 2012. 2010 Census Briefs: The Black Population, 2010. United States Census Bureau. Annual Report: Immigration Enforcement Actions: 2011 by John Simanski and Lesley M. Sapp. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics, September 2012.
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  The due process rights of all persons, regardless of immigration or citizenship status, should be respected and upheld. Currently, under Operation Streamline, judges hold en masse hearings during which up to 80 defendants may be tried simultaneously. Defendants are represented by public defenders and court-appointed lawyers who may represent dozens of clients at a time, meeting with each one for only a few minutes before their court appearance. Unlike most federal prosecutions, judges condense the entire criminal proceeding including initial appearance, plea and sentencing into one day. The assembly-line nature of Operation Streamline hearings makes it impossible for attorneys to effectively represent defendants. Mass detention and deportation programs such as the Criminal Alien Program, Secure Communities and 287 (g) should be ended. Fast-track deportations and mandatory detention and deportation violate the basic due process rights of migrants and all Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) ACCESS Programs must be examined. The ICE ACCESS Program Secure Communities is particularly problematic. It mandates that local law enforcement share the fingerprints of everyone arrested with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. In a 2011 letter to the Chief of Police of Oakland, Calif., Black Law, “Enforcement of America stated, “Local law enforcement’s mission is to keep communities safe. The federal government should not coerce local law enforcement to do the federal government’s job at time of scarce resources, and certainly not at the cost of public safety.” The National Black Police Association has similarly condemned Secure Communities. Include anti-racial profiling provisions in immigration law. The disproportionate detention and deportation of black and Latino immigrants reflects an endemic bias by local law enforcement, immigration enforcement, prosecutors and immigration judges. Strong laws with tough enforcement mechanisms should be established. End mandatory sentencing and mandatory detention. These policies do not allow for law enforcement, prosecutorial or judicial discretion. As a result, prisons, jails and detention centers are filled with people, many with long standing community ties, who are unnecessarily incarcerated at a huge cost to taxpayers. A criminal record should not be an absolute bar to legal status or citizenship. Formerly incarcerated migrants, both documented and undocumented, who have paid their debt to society should have access to

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  programs that support their reentry into U.S. society and assist them in social reintegration. End militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border. Seeing few options in their home countries often due to unjust international trade policies and staggering backlogs in the US immigration system, Black migrants now frequently seek refuge by making the harrowing journey across the U.S.Mexico border. Enforcement on the southern and northern borders must be reformed to include ending the role of law enforcement and military in these matters and protecting the rights of asylum seekers/refugees and those seeking work.

CITIZENSHIP FOR TEMPORARY STATUS HOLDERS As part of any comprehensive immigration reform legislation, the Black Immigration Network (BIN) advocates for the inclusion of temporary status holders. Fair and just immigration reform should not marginalize any group of individuals. BIN recommends legislation that will allow individuals who are temporary status holders to adjust their status, which will lead towards a reasonable pathway to citizenship. There are several forms of temporary status that currently exists, which includes some of the following: Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) is a humanitarian designation, which can be granted at the discretion of the President. DED is not a specific immigration status, but individuals that have been granted DED are not subject to deportation and are allowed to work in the U.S. As of March 2013, Liberia is currently the only country that has been granted DED.   Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a status that was enacted under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1990, section 244, 8 U.S.C section 1254a. This is a status that is granted due to temporary conditions, such as ongoing armed conflict, environmental disasters, or other extraordinary and temporary conditions. During the period of designation, TPS beneficiaries are not subject to deportation, are allowed to work, and authorized to travel outside of the U.S., however, they are not allowed to adjust their status beyond their previous status. This means if one’s status were to expire and their was no renewal, these recipients would have to revert to their previous status and be vulnerable to deportation. It is important that individuals are not in a constant state of limbo, but that we advocate for a common sense approach, which would allow these individuals to adjust their status and become legal permanent resident. Countries that are currently under TPS as of March 2013 are El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and Syria.

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  Other forms of temporary status include Humanitarian Parole and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which was recently authorized on June 15, 2012. ECONOMIC JUSTICE According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, blacks had the highest unemployment rate in 2011, both foreign born and native born. Among the foreign born, the black unemployment rate was 12.5 percent, compared with 6.7 percent for Asians, 7.6 percent for whites, and 10.1 percent for Latinos. Among the native born, the black unemployment rate (16.3 percent) was higher than the rate for whites (7.2 percent), Asians (8.2 percent), and Latinos (13.0 percent).5 In analyzing these and other employment data, the Economic Policy Institute concluded: Economically, U.S.-born and foreign-born blacks have common problems that need to be addressed… The fact that black immigrant groups—who are said to be hardworking, valuing education, entrepreneurial, and family-oriented—do relatively poorly in finding work, obtaining a good wage, and staying out of poverty suggests that the playing field is not as level as popularly believed. The fact that all of these groups are black may contribute to their hardships in the United States.6 Comprehensive immigration reform must address these and other racial disparities by strengthening anti-discrimination laws and labor laws and providing for strict enforcement of these laws. Even with high levels of education, immigrants, especially black immigrants tend to earn low wages compared to other similarly trained immigrant or native workers. Concretely, economic justice must be an integral part of immigration reform. By having a justice-based and innovative approach to economic justice, current efforts on immigration reform offer an opportunity to create positive impacts on both Black immigrants and African Americans. Any fees, fines or other penalty associated with attaining legal status or citizenship should not be burdensome. Economic development for “receiving communities” like job training initiatives and entrepreneurial support programs that benefit immigrants, should be a priority of immigration reform. Like black immigrants, African Americans have higher rates of unemployment than their native-born counterparts in other communities.                                                                                                                
Labor Force Characteristics of Foreign-Born Workers Summary by the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economic News Release, May 24 2012. The Low Wages of Black Immigrants: Wage Penalties for U.S.-Born and Foreign-Born Black Workers by Patrick L. Mason and Algernon Austin. Economic Policy Institute Briefing Paper #298, February 28, 2011.
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  CIR: Guest Worker Programs All workers, regardless of their immigration or citizenship status should have full labor rights. Guest workers programs, especially the H-2A and H-2B visa programs, provide a cheap, highly exploited workforce in agriculture, ship building, education, hospitality and many other industries. The Black Institute7 and the Southern Poverty Law Center8 have documented widespread abuse of guest workers. They are recruited to come to the U.S. by employers or labor contractors, routinely required to go into debt to finance their travel and recruitment fees, are very often falsely promised permanent legal status for themselves and their families, are frequently subjected to wage theft and unsafe working conditions, and are legally tied to one employer. These practices make guest workers “wage slaves” and undercut the wage and labor rights and standards for all workers in the U.S. Comprehensive immigration reform should grant immigrants with temporary employment visas and work permits full employment rights, protections form predatory employers, job portability and a path to permanent residency and citizenship. In addition, employment verification programs (such as E-verify) that undermine worker rights and increase employment vulnerability should be permanently halted. CIR: Diversity Visas BIN strongly encourages maintaining the Diversity Visa Program in Comprehensive Immigration Reform. The Diversity Visa Program, which went into effect in 1995, provides approximately 55,000 visas annually to natives of countries that have low rates of migration to the U.S. Diversity Visas are granted to regions whose visa allocation for Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) has been less than 50,000 in the past five years. And consequently Diversity Visas have been apportioned in high numbers to African and European migrants because they generally have lower levels of U.S. migration. Almost half (49%) of the 47,879 diversity immigrants came from Africa, which contributed 11% of the total number of 1.1 million LPRs in 2009. CONCLUSION By adopting BIN’s 4 priorities (i.e. family reunification, ending criminalization of migrants, citizenship for temporary status and holders and economic justice) and the recommendations on border security, diversity visas and guest worker programs, U.S. immigration policy can be on a path to achieving racial justice and equitable reform for black immigrants and other communities of color.                                                                                                                
Broken Promises: The Story of Caribbean International Teachers in New York City’s Schools published by The Black Institute on behalf of the Association of International Educators. 2012. Close to Slavery: Guestworker Programs in the United States published by the Southern Poverty Law Center. February 2013.
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