A Sneak Peek at ‘The State of Black Immigrants in the U.S.’ (Spoiler Alert — It Isn’t Good)
(This entry is adapted from a forthcoming report by the Black Alliance for Just Immigration & New York University School of Law’s Immigrant Rights Clinic entitled, ‘The State of Black Immigrants’)
“We demand an end to the criminalization, incarceration, and killing of our people. This includes … (5) [a]n end to the war on Black immigrants.” — #Vision4BlackLives Platform
In an era where Black Lives Matter and #Not1More have become rallying cries for racial justice and immigrants’ rights activists respectively, it’s important that we uplift the common challenges that cross both movements — mass incarceration, policing, immigrant detention, deportations, deprivation of civil rights and civil liberties, economic inequality, and the destruction of families and communities. These problems are prevalent in all communities of color in the United States. But unlike Black Americans and immigrants of other backgrounds, Black immigrants — immigrants originating largely from Africa, the Caribbean, and South America — face the aforementioned challenges in ways that are unique and consequential.
For over a decade, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) has sought to raise public awareness around issues impacting Black immigrants through education, advocacy, grassroots organizing, and storytelling. Despite our successes, which include consolidating Black immigrant power and mobilizing the Black diaspora around the human rights issues that transcend our communities, Black Americans and Black immigrants remain at the margins of society.
When it comes to Black immigrants, terms such as “marginalization” and “oppression” understate the plight of this community. Simply put, Black immigrants are invisible. They are absent from the mainstream and media representation of immigrants. Their narratives are merged with the stories of other, generic, communities of color in the U.S. Research on Black immigrants is scant. Even the notion of “Black immigrants” as an identity group is foreign to most.
For this reason, BAJI, along with New York University School of Law’s Immigrant Rights Clinic decided to embark upon a study of the experience of Black immigrants in the U.S. We recognized that any research report about Black immigrants — and this report in particular — must serve two purposes: (1) to provide basic demographic information about Black immigrants and (2) to highlight the unique social and economic challenges facing this immigrant group. This report entitled, The State of Black Immigrants, is scheduled to be released on September 26, 2016.
While the report is substantive, it is not exhaustive. Information available on Black immigrants and data on racial outcomes in the U.S. immigration enforcement system is limited. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not track data based on race. Our findings rely on numerous sources including: 2014 American Community Survey (ACS), 2014 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics,, and data compiled by Transactional Records Clearinghouse (TRAC) and Case Access System for EOIR (CASE) databases, amongst others. We also cite reports from several organizations including the Pew Research Center and the Migration Policy Institute, and spoke with several professors and experts. The wide variety of sources and sophisticated analysis required to produce this report is testament to the obscured existence of this group by government agencies and academia alike.
Despite the scant availability of research and data, the report ultimately confirms our hypothesis: Black immigrants, one of the fastest growing demographic groups in the U.S., face a myriad of challenges that parallel those of Black Americans. The report focuses largely on the impact of mass criminalization and immigration enforcement on Black communities. It will also provide recently updated demographic data on immigration status, country of origin, geographic location within the U.S., and eligibility for forms of immigration relief for Black immigrants.
Our hope is that we will be able to build on the body of research available on the Black immigrant experience in the U.S. and that this report, in particular the recommendations toward the end, will lay the groundwork for a Black immigrant policy agenda over the coming years.
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Carl Lipscombe is on the senior leadership team at the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), a national nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of Black immigrants and Black Americans in the U.S. Before starting at BAJI, Carl worked as a public defender and as a campaigner and policy advisor for various local, state, and national social justice organizations.