A Crucible for Black Immigrants

In 1980, Black immigrants represented 3.1 percent of the total U.S. Black population. Today, they represent nearly 10 percent—and an even higher percentage in states like New York and Florida. Altogether, there are an estimated 5 million Black immigrants—naturalized and non-citizens alike—living in the United States.

Black immigrants—just like their Black U.S. citizen counterparts—face discrimination and systemic racism in their encounters with our government. The Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) reports that Black asylum seekers are both more likely to be detained and to be detained for longer than their non-Black counterparts.

In fact, while just 7 percent of non-citizens in the U.S. are Black, they make up 20 percent of those facing deportation on criminal grounds. In ICE jails and private prisons, guards subject Black immigrants to solitary confinement at higher rates than non-Black immigrants. The longest incarcerations on record are for Black immigrants.

Our own JFON attorneys have witnessed firsthand this unequal treatment of their Black clients. Cases with Black asylum seekers will frequently require more corroboration, more documentation, and more scrutiny than cases involving non-Black asylum seekers. Judges and government attorneys alike often default to assumptions of fraud, regardless of evidence.

“I had one judge who—off the record—told me “you know, these African cases, they’re all fraudulent,” reports Jenny Grobelski, supervisory attorney of Northern Illinois Justice for Our Neighbors and consulting attorney for the National JFON office.  “That was pretty terrible. But that client did get his asylum claim approved—based on overwhelming evidence that the government couldn’t discount.”

In the waning months of the Trump administration, officials ramped up deportations of Black asylum seekers, including at least 14 Cameroonians at four detention facilities in Louisiana and Mississippi, who say ICE subjected them to coercion and physical abuse to force their deportations.

During October 2019, a group of nearly 60 Cameroonian and 28 Congolese immigrants were similarly deported to their home countries, despite grave concerns for their safety voiced by the immigrants themselves, their lawyers and loved ones.

It’s Wednesday, Jan. 20, as we write this. This week we celebrated the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., and witnessed the inauguration of a new president under extraordinary circumstances.

And yesterday—not 24 hours before Donald Trump, once again, became a private citizen—one last deportation charter flight was squeezed in, leaving Florence, Arizona, for Mauritania, West Africa.

It’s been a long time since there has been any good news coming out of Mauritania.  Infamous as the last nation on earth to officially abolish slavery (1981), this heinous custom wasn’t made a crime until 2007 and is still widely practiced. The country is in the grip of a rigid and racist caste system, where fully 30 percent of the population is brutally oppressed and subjugated.

The wife of a Mauritanian immigrant—and longtime Ohio resident—faces the imminent deportation of her husband. Via the Cincinnati Enquirer.
The wife of a Mauritanian immigrant—and longtime Ohio resident—faces the imminent deportation of her husband. Via the Cincinnati Enquirer.

“Words cannot describe the cruelty involved in sending one last plane to this nation that denies Black people basic human rights,” states Lynn Tramonte, Director of the Ohio Immigrant Alliance and member of our Interfaith Immigration Coalition.

 This last deportation flight only expands the need for the next administration to reunite families and allow deported people to return to their homes in the U.S.”

Black Mauritanians were among the first immigrant communities to experience a radical change in immigration policy under the Trump administration. “Suddenly, after decades of living in the U.S. with legal work permits, working and raising families,” writes Franklin Foer of The Atlantic, “Black Mauritanians were being arrested at regular ICE check-in meetings, thrown into subpar county jails, and deported—often in shackles, on lengthy and expensive charter flights.”

“ICE is sending Mauritanians back to modern-day slavery,” wrote the Washington Post editorial board in 2018.  “This is unconscionable.”

These actions are unconscionable, and yet they were allowed to continue. Right up until the very last minute.

As an immigrant rights organization, it is our responsibility to recognize that our struggle for justice is inextricably linked to understanding, naming, and battling pervasive racism and anti-Blackness. We know that the great crucible is not yet behind us. We know we must continue to work —with diligence and renewed vigor—if we are to finally reach that further shore.

Jan. 21, 2021 UPDATE:  A 100-day moratorium on most deportations is scheduled to begin on tomorrow, Friday, Jan. 22. According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the goal of the Biden administration’s moratorium is to “review and reset enforcement policies to ensure a fair and effective immigration enforcement system.”


The Black Alliance for Just Immigration has produced several excellent reports and community resources guides on this subject. We recommend:

There is a Target on Us: The impact of Anti-Black racism on African migrants at Mexico’s Southern Border

Black Lives at the Border

The State of Black Immigrants:

Part 1: Statistical Portrait of Black Immigrants in the United States

Part II: Black Immigrants in the Mass Criminalization System


Recent Posts

Category :
Immigration Issues