“Blackifying” the Immigration Issue: DACA and the Black Community

Halifu Osumare, Ph.D.

OPINION (CBM) – On September 5, 2017 Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered a speech rescinding the five-year old Obama enacted Executive Order called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. This policy reversal reopened a historical U.S. debate about immigration and who is a real American. Rescinding DACA affects approximately 800,000 immigrants who had been temporarily relieved of fear of deportation as children born abroad, brought to the U.S. illegally, and came of age here. Most so-called “Dreamers” are productive Americans, educated, and contributing to the U.S. economy. Now the government will stop accepting new applications immediately, and allow current recipients with permits expiring before March 5, 2018 to apply for a two-year renewal before October 5, 2019. Trump has sent mixed-messages about Dreamers by tweeting, “We will resolve the DACA issue with heart and compassion—but through the lawful democratic process,” and mandating it to Congress to find a solution. Democrats, some Republicans, prominent business leaders, and grassroots immigration activists have all lambasted the rescinding of DACA.

How does this new policy affect the black communities across the nation, and what should be our collective response? Sessions, in his official announcement, stated one argument that has long resonated with some African Americans: Dreamers have “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same illegal aliens to take those jobs.” As often low-wage earners, African Americans have periodically complained that Mexican immigrants were replacing them in the work force. However, a June 2013 study published by the American Immigration Council analyzed comprehensive U.S. census data indicating that, “Immigration from Latin America improves wages and job opportunities for African Americans.” Rescinding DACA is not only cold-hearted and unfair on a human level, but will actually harm the U.S. economy, which affects everyone. The study also positioned their findings in a larger context: “To the extent that there really is a “black-brown” divide, it is rooted in politics and perception—not economics.”

Examining immigration historically, it becomes not just a political issue, but also a racial one. African Americans joining the anti-DACA camp participate in the unfair treatment of potentially productive American citizens, who have only known the U.S. as home, and also ignore the historical racial undertones of past anti-immigrant policies. African American historian Jelani Cobb, in a September 5 The New Yorker article, said that the Trump administration ultimately wants to enact a Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) law, which “will slash legal immigration by fifty percent, and prioritize highly skilled English speakers among those who are allowed to immigrate.” This policy would reinforce his “Make America Great Again” demagoguery that attempts to take us back to a previous era where real Americans are seen as white. It was the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that, according to Cobb, “eliminated the racialist immigration quotas that were set by the Immigration Act of 1924.” It is no coincident that a fairer immigration policy emerged during the Civil Rights era.

Black rights and those of other people of color have always been inextricably linked to how the U.S. power structure has historically viewed who has the right to be a full citizen. Today we see a resurgence of white supremacy, with an emboldened public KKK and Neo-Nazis movement. Previous racist U.S. immigration policies actually inspired Adolf Hitler, as well as the architects of South African apartheid. Blacks, as the quintessential “Other,” should always recognize racializing arguments as they resurface in new guises, and work with other communities of color to defeat racism in all its forms, including racist immigration policies.

Immigration is not a Mexico/U.S. problem, but is a multicultural issue, with DACA affecting immigrants from all nations, including black ones. A 2017 Center for American Progress survey of undocumented Americans by race listed 3.5% as Asian, 1.7% as white, and 1.1% as black. Although 92.6% are Hispanic/Latino, the seemly small percentage of black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean represent over 12,000 people. Black illegal immigrants have felt so left out of the debate, that they founded their own organization called UndocuBlack Network in January 2016 to: 1) Blackify this country’s understanding of the undocumented population, and 2) facilitate access to resources for the Black undocumented community. Their website (http://undocublack.org) reads: “Ultimately, our vision is to have truly inclusive immigrant rights and racial justice movements that advocate for the rights of black undocumented individuals.” Co-Founder Jonathan Hayes-Green has argued articulately about the plight of undocumented black immigrants, appearing on Joy Reid’s AM Joy MSNBC cable television show. African-American scholar and Baptist minister Dr. Michael Eric Dyson has featured the National Action Network’s “Support the Fight to #Defend DACA” movement, on his twitter feed, stating “Over 12, 000 DACA recipients come from Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, and Nigeria. Prominent black leaders like Reed and Dyson are creating awareness of U.S. immigration policy and race in relation to black folks.

As we face a resurgence of white supremacy, the KKK, and Nazism in the U.S., do not be duped by the stereotype of DACA and illegal immigrants as solely a Mexican issue. It is about who defines America. Trump’s mantra of “Make America Great Again” is a smokescreen for taking us back to an era when “blacks, Jews, Catholics and immigrants” were seen as degenerative forces destroying the white race. As Trump has put the ball in the court of Congress, the black community must urge them to make DACA a definitive law, and fight against racism and xenophobia in all its forms.
_____
By Halifu Osumare, Ph.D.
California Black Media Columnist

Halifu Osumare is Professor Emerita of African American & African Studies at University of California Davis, and is publishing Dancing in Blackness, a Memoir in 2018.