Black immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, Haiti, et.al, are barely footnotes in the immigration reform conversation. A recent meeting of the fledging Black Immigration Network (BIN) in Baltimore, addressed this issue that is largely ignored by the public and the media.
The gathering was sponsored by the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), Which Way Forward program of the Center for New Community (WWF) and the American Friends Service Committee. Over the past two years, these organizations, working together, shared a vision of creating a Black immigration network that encompasses people of African descent who reside in the United States.
The meeting's Vision and Goals Statement reads, "Our shared African ancestry and similar experiences with racism and exploitation in the U.S. and globally can give us a common frame of reference for common struggle. BIN can be an important space for gathering the African Diaspora for joint strategizing, information-sharing and work for the benefit of all of our respective communities."
The specific goals were 1) To examine critical issues around African-American immigrant relations, especially the relations between African Americans born in the U.S. and immigrants of African descent; 2) Strategize about ways to address immigration and other key social and political issues facing our communities; 3) Foster group cohesion and explore networking and collaboration.
The sponsors considered the meeting an opportunity to bring Black groups and communities together to address some critical issues of the day that impact all of us. They believe that the struggle for immigrant rights is one of the cutting edge issues in the fight for racial justice and full democracy in the U.S. today.
They contend that racism and economic globalization have created displacement and poverty in virtually all of our communities and countries. And they also maintain that immigrants and others of color, in general, were exploited and scapegoats for many of the country's economic problems, even before the current economic crisis. African Americans are being locked out of the formal economy and immigrants of color "super-exploited" as a way to undercut the wages and working conditions of the U.S. workforce as a whole, creating greater profits for U.S. corporations.
The sponsoring organizations have developed overlapping networks of individuals and organizations they work with consistently. They believe that bringing a range of groups together to address immigration and related issues can magnify the impact of (separate) groups in changing immigration policy and promoting racial justice. They also feel that BIN can be instrumental in bringing the issues and perspectives of various Black immigrant communities and African Americans into the broader immigrant rights and racial justice movements.
Participants at the BIN confab included African American immigrant rights groups as well as representatives of Black African groups here in the U.S. Discussion ranged from the virtual absence of a national focus on Black immigrant rights and labor unions' role in immigration reform, to pending immigration legislation, Black-Latino relations and the need to deal specifically with the complex issue of Black immigrants.
The last day of the gathering was the most challenging. It included brain-storming and strategy development related to the formation of a sustainable national BIN. Discussions were intense, but not contentious and focused on key internal matters such as respect, values, structure, communication and the need for unapologetic advocates for Black immigrant rights.
There was consensus that there is a critical need for people of African descent to work together in order to achieve mutually agreed upon goals and objectives and that this is based on operational unity within each group, indispensable for successful collaboration between all participating groups.
Sustained follow-up determines the value of any attempt at group unity, particularly where actual change is the desired outcome. Considerable time was devoted to linking recommended structure, capacity-building, accountability, and concrete results to BIN's mission. A Continuation Committee was formed to review and synthesize the content and recommendations of the meeting. The Black Alliance for Just Immigration, together with the other sponsoring organizations and other volunteers, constitute the Continuation Committee, that will make its first report via E-mail within thirty-days.
The magnitude of issues facing Black Americans and immigrants of African descent remind us that we must work collaboratively, and on a sustained basis, to secure our own future. No one else will. Turning public education on its head so that good schools for Black children are the norm, effective, group-oriented leadership, and Black immigration networks, are part of the Herculean challenge to improve the quality of life for Black people.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at E-mail