The Black Immigration Network’s (BIN) National convening in late April 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia marked an exceptionally difficult period for black immigrants, African Americans and other people of color. Despite the rhetoric that the election of Barack Obama has ushered in a new “post-racial era”, individual, institutional and structural racism is still alive and well in the U.S. and across the world. All of our communities are besieged by the effects of a society-wide economic crisis; the demonization and criminalization of people of color, including immigrants; and a surge in racist ideology and white supremacist groups as well as racist and xenophobic federal, state and local laws and policies.The case of Trayvon Martin is only the latest example of a virulent trend in U.S. society.
On the issue of immigration, the rightwing framework still holds considerable sway in the U.S., especially, but not only, among white people. The frame posits that immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants are criminals, pose a threat to national security, suck jobs and resources from native born Americans, and threaten the national identity of white citizens. Increasing militarization of the border, aggressive detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants, limited labor rights and restrictions on public benefits for immigrants are key demands of anti-immigrant groups.
Several national anti-immigrant groups, like the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform (FAIR), are well funded and are able to get their message out to a broad national audience. In addition, the explicitly white supremacist and potentially violent anti-immigrant hate groups are growing in numbers and membership.
While national polls show that a majority of U.S. citizens favor some type of legalization program, a majority also supports raids, detentions, deportations and other anti-immigrant measures. This atmosphere makes it extremely difficult to have a rational discussion on immigration, let alone to pass a bill in Congress that will speak to the legitimate needs and aspirations of immigrants.
While black, brown and Asian immigrants are being harassed, detained and deported, African American and Latino citizens are also being marginalized, demonized and criminalized. U.S. jails and prisons are filled to overcapacity with black and brown youth as seen by the established school-to-prison pipeline. Increasingly, African Americans are being locked up and locked out of the formal economy and immigrants of color are being locked into a super-exploitative labor market, which many have coined as modern-day slavery.
A new wave of Jim Crow/Juan Crow laws and policies are ushering in a new era of human rights violations in the U.S. At this moment, the South is at the center of a key historical moment in this country. Many Southern states have passed or are considering legislation that will strip the dignity of personhood from millions of immigrant workers who have low-wage jobs in our farms, factories, nursing homes, hotels and other industries this country. At the same time, several Southern states and states outside the South have passed voter identification laws in an effort to suppress the vote of African Americans and Latino citizens. In many states and localities, racial profiling has been legitimized, public education has been gutted, and affirmative action has been outlawed.
Historically and currently, the South is the bastion of the extreme right that controls the political agenda of the country, making the region a critical place for social justice organizing. On the other side, there is a rich legacy of African American resistance to racism and exploitation in the South that expanded U.S. democracy to disenfranchised populations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
In the twenty-first century, race, racism and racialization continue to permeate the political and social climate. The many faces of “race” create a complex and dangerous landscape for organizing, movement building and creating deep alliances for justice.
The Black Immigration Network is born out of an understanding that our shared African ancestry and similar experiences with racism and exploitation in the U.S. and globally provide a common frame of reference for joint efforts in the fight for economic, social and racial justice. We stand against the scapegoating of immigrants and anyone appearing to be foreign. We stand against pitting of African Americans against immigrant workers driven by underpaying one group of workers. We stand for a just and inclusive economy of fair and equal wages for all workers. We seek and support leaders and policies that will eliminate the disproportionate negative effects of globalization, racism and economic exploitation on everyone, especially black communities.
But serious tensions between African Americans and immigrants (including black immigrants) exist and are fueled by fear, economic competition and blame fostered by a toxic public debate that pits the economic hardship of many African Americans against the economic exploitation of many immigrants. The Black Immigration Network’s challenge is to turn the common ancestry and the common struggles of African Americans and black immigrants into a common and concerted advocacy and action agenda that benefits all of our communities. We are further challenged to combine our efforts with those of other communities struggling for justice.
The future health and well being of all of our communities depend upon what we and other like-minded people do today. It is up to us to build understanding and solidarity among communities and to contribute to forging a new human rights movement in the U.S. and the world. This is the challenge of the 21st Century.
The Black Immigration Network (BIN) is national network of people 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. To learn more about the network or to become an individual or organizational member please visit our website at www.blackimmigraton.net.
This piece was submitted by Opal Tometi, the National Organizer for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), on behalf of the National Steering Committee for the Black Immigration Network (BIN). BAJI is a co-founder and member organization of BIN.