According to Everyone: Undocumented Black People do not exist.
For a lot of people this year, Independence Day was not a holiday of celebration, but more so a day of anger, bitterness and disappointment towards the American government. With the countless and increasing amount of Black bodies killed every year at the hands of police brutality, the thousands of migrant children being separated from their parents, the deportation of immigrants willing to die for the U.S, and the inciting of racism and xenophobia at the hand of 45, many saw the day as a day of action.
Take Therese Patricia Okoumou, a Congolese naturalized American citizen. On Wednesday, Therese climbed up the statue of liberty to protest the separation of children from their parents for illegal border crossings. While many saw and lauded Therese as a hero, many condemned her attack.
Besides Trump and other racists calling her a clown, I found the most popular source of criticism for her heroic deed to be Black people. In comment sections throughout the internet, I found many complaining that Black women seem to constantly be providing labor for groups that do not do the same in return. While I agree with the sentiment, the comments reminded me of the American tendency to place Latinx, specifically Mexican, immigrants at the center of the illegal immigration debate. Many Americans do not see African, Caribbean and even Afro-Latinx people as undocumented.
This is bad for Black immigrants for several reasons. For one, while Black immigrants are less likely to be stereotypically judged as undocumented in the media and in social settings (in comparison to Latinx immigrants), Black immigrants are still “targeted by criminalization.” What this means is, since Black people in the United States are more likely to be stopped, arrested, and incarcerated based on suspicious activity or “living while Black,” Black immigrants are more susceptible to deportation in this manner. By being detained, they are now vulnerable to the justice system, as their status in the country becomes painfully obvious the minute that they are put in handcuffs.
Another reason is the fact that the issue of deportation is just as much of a stressor in Black immigrant communities as it is in Latinx communities. In 2015, ICE reportedly deported over 1,000 African immigrants. In March 2017, ICE deported 130 people to Senegal, a six time increase from the agency’s 2016 record. But, the spotlight remains on Latinx immigrants, which blocks African and Caribbean immigrants from obtaining a larger support system in the United States that would aid them in their immigration cases.
Therese did not sit at the foot of the Statue of Liberty to simply act as a ally for the brown bodies facing deportation; she was also protesting the treatment of her Black brothers and sisters being profiled, deported and incarcerated each day in America.
The anti-immigration movement is rooted in themes of racism and white supremacy. For everyday that 45 is in the office, the statuses of all undocumented immigrants in this country, worsens. While I am not arguing that illegal immigration is not a serious offense that should be free from any repercussions, I do think that there should be a shift in how we view and deal with it. For one, there is absolutely nothing that modern-day, natural-born American citizens did to deserve to be born in this country. And, considering the fact that the perception of “a true American” ignores the fact that this land was stolen by immigrants who then enslaved its original inhabitants; there is no reason for the U.S. government to judge asylum/new opportunity-seekers so harshly. We need to change the way look at immigrants, undocumented or not, and how we view our land, our opportunity and if we can even claim it as ours.
***NOTE: The Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) is a national nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean and Afro-Latino countries. From their website you can learn more about the resources they offer, their events and even donate!