African Voices in US Immigration Reform

immigrationWe came, we saw and we stayed and now we want to stay legally.

As the debate on immigration reform continues in the United States, President Obama and members of the Republican party have put forth many ideas that will result in comprehensive immigration reform. During the campaign Mr. Obama the son of an immigrant father seemed to empathize with the plight of undocumented immigrants. Immigration reform will be important for the Obama legacy as Mr. Obama’s rise to power has been one where people have desired for him to be transformational.The Senate comprised of a bi-partisan group of Senators is working on a comprehensive bill because everyone realizes or is at least predicting that ‘minorities’ are soon to be emerging majorities and are crucial to the growth of the two major parties. The conservative wing of the GOP has been outspoken against granting immigrants citizenship but is gradually softening their position because politics is about demographics. This is the beauty of democracy, those who oppose immigration reform shall prove irrelevant when a new wave of immigrant Americans begins to cast its ballot. According to the latest US Census results black immigrants are about 10% of the total immigration population of the United States of America.

The African/ black voices have hardly been heard in immigration reform. There are very few African lobby groups that are advocating in Washington. I wondered why Africans who have a great interest in the matter have been only speaking in whispers and murmurs and are  reluctant to appear in the immigrants  marches or on television.  One of the main reasons is that many people who grew up in Africa when it was ruled by dictators are less likely to be politically active than those who are American born. They remember all too well the consequences of freedom of speech under repressive governments.

032013-politics-immigration-three-signsThe element of fear of being recognized as undocumented and possibly being deported is real among Africans which leads them to support silently. Many Africans particularly those that are older and have families are least likely to risk their livelihood by coming out and speaking for immigration reform though they support it 100%. Every African knows someone who has been deported so deportation is dreaded and feared and is a reality for many Africans living in America

Another theory that I came across in my research is that Africans are more  concerned with bread and butter issues and meeting their basic needs according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and are therefore less likely to have time to go and testify before congress even though they are just as concerned about the outcome.

The few organizations that are involved in the discussions are African-American based groups. The issue of immigration has not really been a priority for many African American organizations who feel that Africans or Caribbean immigrants ‘take their jobs’ and do not understand what it is to be Black In America. As a black immigrant I am sometimes conflicted in terms of my blackness and my immigrant status when I am around some African American friends who are opposed to immigrants but say that I am different.

What is not clear however is why there aren’t a lot of African who are already American citizens showing their support for their fellow brothers and sisters. Perhaps it is the cultural practice of silence or they have assimilated and are more concerned with everyday issues affecting their individual lives rather than community issues. Black undocumented immigrants who live in America tend to be those who have overstayed their visas and just desire like so many others desire to stay without the fear of deportation or the stigma of being labelled an “illegal alien”. Let’s all get involved.

The White House plan is available on http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/immigration

Bipartisan Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform http://www.c-span.org/uploadedFiles/Content/Documents/Bipartisan-Framework-For-Immigration-Reform.pdf

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