Yoliswa Khumalo (left) Hadebe leads a march in D.C. for Black immigrant recognition on Dec. 15. (Courtesy photo)
(L-R) UndocuBlack's Yoliswa Khumalo Hadebe and Vusimuzi Mbatha Ndabezitha lead a march in D.C. for Black immigrant recognition on Wednesday, Dec. 15. (Courtesy Photo)

As the Build Back Better Act makes its way through the Senate, a multiethnic cadre of Black people and their allies continue to demand that U.S. lawmakers include in that legislation a pathway to a green card for a constituency they say has been marginalized in conversations about immigration reform. 

On Wednesday, UndocuBlack Network and other organizations converged on Lafayette Square and other parts of Downtown D.C. to express solidarity with Black immigrants who, despite contributing to American society in various ways, face exclusion from the Build Back Better’s immigration package that establishes permanent residency.   

As a cohort of undocumented and formerly undocumented Black immigrants, UndocuBlack Network has led several marches over years, including one in February to highlight the plight of Haitian migrants.

“We’ve been in the streets for Black Lives Matter, the women’s march and immigration while all still fighting for Black immigrant-specific issues [and] we’re very drained [but] the march was very rejuvenating,’ said Yoliswa Khumalo Hadebe, UndocuBlack Network’s director of narrative and media. 

In collaboration with the Office of the New York City Public Advocate, Haitian Bridge Alliance, Little Haiti Brooklyn and other partners, UndocuBlack Network coordinated a protest that, at one point, brought hundreds of people in front of the U.S. Customs & Border Protection building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Northwest. 

At Lafayette Square, undocumented Black people took to a microphone and reflected on their experiences. 

“We had Haitians, Africans, island folks and our allies involved,” said Hadebe who hails from South Africa.

“The Haitians’ pain isn’t separate from [the pain] of collective Black oppression. There are other Black migrants left behind at the border and in detention who’ve had the same experiences, which is why we’ve asked for an expansive understanding of the issue.” 

Immigration Continues to Be a Hot-Button Issue

The Build Back Better Act includes protections for undocumented immigrants who’ve lived in the U.S. for more than a decade, along with healthcare access and the ability to travel home without consequence. The immigration provision of the legislation has been estimated to affect 7 million illegal immigrants, many of whom are essential workers, Temporary Protected Status recipients, and DREAMers. 

Upon entering office, President Joe Biden (D) counted immigration reform among his administration’s top priorities. However, attempts to exercise executive power to make permanent policy changes have sparked pushback from federal judges. In Congress, Biden’s overhaul of immigration laws hasn’t found much traction. Earlier this year, the Senate struck down his attempt to forge a path to permanent citizenship. 

Meanwhile, Black immigrants continue to face threats from all sides. 

In September, photos surfaced of U.S. border patrol agents on horseback whipping Haitian asylum seekers in Del Rio, Texas. Though Biden condemned the officers’ actions, his administration later ushered the deportation of those asylum seekers. Critics have since pointed to Biden’s use of Trump-era legislation that led to a surge of border patrol agents during the pandemic. 

Haitians count among 4.2 million Black immigrants living in the United States, some of whom arrive in need of asylum or as refugees. Even though Black immigrants account for nine percent of those who arrived illegally, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration estimates that one out of five illegal immigration cases involves Black people. 

Examining the Black Immigrant Plight

Research shows that the majority of foreign-born Black people come from Africa and the Caribbean and tend to have a better command of English than their counterparts from Latin America and other parts of the world. The lack of a language barrier, in part, has been identified as a reason why Black immigrants’ strife hasn’t been deemed as dire as that of Latino immigrants.  

But Hadebe points to anti-Blackness as the main culprit. That’s why part of her organizing strategy has involved tying in immigration with the other struggles Black people face. She said there are ongoing efforts, in the United States and around the world, to erase the Black experience. 

“People would want statistics and data beyond the fact that we’re telling our stories,” Hadebe said.

“They shouldn’t want to see Black immigrants at the border being whipped before they get involved. There’s been an erasure of Back immigrants [and part of] that conversation has been tied to the belief that our Latino counterparts have organized much better than us,” she continued. 

“But the main issue of this campaign is to amplify the experiences that keep Black immigrants from safely mobilizing like our allies in the first place.” 

NOTE: Upcoming stories will explore the Black immigrant experience more deeply. Please be on the lookout.   

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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