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Black Prejudice in American Immigration

Black Prejudice in American immigration isn’t a popular topic.

Yet, the fact remains, not all immigrants are created equal. When it comes to immigration, Black immigrants and immigrants of color are often subject to discriminatory immigration policies and practices.

For example, contrast the treatment of Haitian migrants along the Rio Grande Border in 2021, with the treatment of Ukrainian refugees in 2022. The United States eagerly welcomes white immigrants. While people of color are undesirable.

This disparity, fueled in part by black prejudice, reinforces the previous administration’s narrative. Some countries are “shit hole” countries, and immigrants from those countries should be limited.

I believe, the fight for Black immigrants, is the fight for America. 

The Truth About Black Prejudice in Immigration

My goal is not to compare the hardship, oppression, or trauma of different immigrant groups, but to shine a light on Black prejudice in American immigration.

Black immigrants represent a growing portion of the immigrant population.

According to Pew Research Center, there are an estimated 4.6 million Black immigrants in the U.S. Of those 4.6 million, at least a half a million are undocumented. In fact, Black immigrants now make up at least 12% of the Black population. This includes 9% of all non-citizens in the U.S. 

Like Black U.S. citizens, Black immigrants encounter a disproportionate amount of racial profiling, harassment, and arrests. For example, consider incidents with law enforcement alone. Black immigrants are frequently stereotyped as hostile actors, antagonists, perpetrators, or instigators. They are GUILTY until proven innocent.

Unfair Immigration Policies for Black Immigrants

For many, “the prison to deportation pipeline”, may seem like a myth. Yet, for Black immigrants, the reality can feel like a conspiracy against them by the criminal justice and immigration systems.

According to the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), even though Black immigrants make up less than 10% of the undocumented population, they make up over 20% of all immigrants facing deportation on criminal grounds. Additionally, Black immigrants suffer detainment or deportation 3 times more often than other immigrants for alleged criminal offenses.

Furthermore, under policies enacted by the previous administration, Black prejudice in immigration escalated. Trump’s Muslim ban restricted nationals from 7 African nations. A host of other anti-immigrant policies severely impacted Black immigration.

These included:

  • Attacks on asylum.
  • Deep cuts to refugee admissions.
  • Escalating immigration raids.
  • An abrupt attempt to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

In 2017, Pew Research Center cites a decrease in the overall number of deportations. At the same time, the number of deportations of Black African immigrants increased.

Examples of Mistreatment

While in detention, Black immigrants are subject to poor conditions. In many cases, they suffer abuse.

One prominent example is the 2020 hunger strike in an ICE detainment center in Natchez Mississippi. Over 100 Cameroonians and Haitians stopped eating to protest the abuse of their human rights.

Abuse included:

  • Medical neglect.
  • Forced hysterectomies.
  • Slavery-like conditions.

As a result of their protests, these undesirable immigrants were deported by ICE.

Similarly, in protest of “gross human rights violations” by ICE in the New Orlean’s Pine Prairie detention center, 42 Cameroonian detainees used the same hunger-strike tactic.

And according to a 2020 study, detained Black immigrants experience solitary confinement 6 times more often than other groups.

Highlighting the unfair treatment in many detention centers should not paint all ICE officers as villains. Some recognize this situation for what it is – unfair. There are many officers who go above and beyond to facilitate a more favorable environment or fair outcome for Black immigrants.

Black Immigration Prejudice in the Courts

Black immigrants also encounter unfair treatment, stereotypes, prejudice, cultural ignorance, and bias in Immigration Courts. Which often leads to unfavorable outcomes.

From 2012 to 2017, Haitians had the second-highest denial rate at 86% for asylum (following Mexicans at 88%). In prior years, Jamaicans had the highest asylum denial rate at 92%.

Also worth noting, according to RAICES, bonds paid to bail out Haitian immigrants averaged $16,700. This is 54% higher than for other immigrants.  

Black immigrants find themselves at the mercy of overworked Immigration Judges. Judges who are often jaded, biased, or culturally ignorant.

To reduce their caseload, some judges speed up the Court proceeding by simultaneously acting as Judge and cross-examiner. This does not provide the immigrant with a sufficient opportunity to explain their situation, or fully describe their circumstances. These judges apply Black prejudice (based on limited information or stereotypes), to reach an unfair conclusion.

In Immigration Courts:

  • There is no guarantee to a right to an attorney.
  • The rules of evidence do not necessarily apply.
  • There is implicit bias, discrimination, and abuse of power in the system.

Predictively, these factors result in negative outcomes that significantly impact Black immigrants. 

Lack of Resources and Diversity

Black immigrants also suffer prejudice when it comes to resources. They significantly struggle with a lack of legal representation in Immigration Courts.

Most job opportunities for immigration attorneys prefer Spanish speakers. This creates unequal representation in favor of Latinx or Spanish-speaking immigrants. While at the same time, negatively impacting Black or African immigrants that do not speak English or Spanish.

Moreover, most Black immigrants cannot afford representation from big immigration firms. And, smaller firms do not have the resources available for language assistance beyond English or Spanish.

This leaves Black immigrants to represent themselves pro se. Which almost inevitably, leads to a denial of justice.

The need for diversity is equally important for Black immigrants. Having a Black attorney or Black judge involved in their case means a lot to Black immigrants. When they see someone who looks like them, they believe they will be given a fair chance. This is why diversity in the immigration system is a necessary component for justice to prevail.

Unfortunately, only 5.4% of all immigration lawyers are Black. This lack of diversity combined with the language barrier effects the outcome for every Black immigrant in America.

Prejudice from the USCIS

Black Immigrants do not fare any better with USCIS. Immigrants from African countries must provide insurmountable evidence to prove their case.

USCIS’ strategy to proactively send out a request for evidence (RFE) or notice of intent to deny (NOID) to Black immigrants is discriminatory. Requiring immigrants to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. A standard usually reserved for criminal cases.

This practice, can result in the requirement of extensive documentation. Documentation later deemed insufficient, resulting in a denial.

Clearly, this imposition of an impossible standard is tantamount to abuse of discretion and a violation of established guidelines.

This article focuses on the Black immigrant experience. I do not intend to minimize the experiences of all other immigrants. However, the fact remains that our nation continues to grapple with racial justice issues. The same concerns of hundreds of years of institutionalized Black prejudice are now prevalent in the immigration system.

This prejudice and plight of Black immigrants continues to fuel stereotypes, bias, xenophobia, hatred, and cultural ignorance. Reflecting an undeniable truth that Black Immigrants are undesirable in the United States. 

As a country, we can do better. As human beings, we must do better.

The article was authored by Henry Ibe, an associate attorney at Quan Law Group, PLLC, in Houston, TX. 

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Posted on 20 May