After record-breaking levels of detentions and deportations under the Obama Administration, immigration reform is finally gaining traction across the nation due to bipartisan support. When President Obama met with progressive immigration leaders last week to tackle the issue, the groups represented at the conference – United We Stand, the National Council of La Raza – were almost entirely Latino. Even the NAACP, that old stalwart of Black rights, has framed immigration reform as a Latino issue, building coalitions with increasingly powerful Latino groups. For this generation, immigrants in America have been painted as a decidedly Latino, leaving non-Latino Black immigrants feeling marginalized and voiceless even as we face the consequences of the last four years of an increasingly sweeping and punitive immigration system.
It’s not the strength of the Latino coalitions that have kept Black immigrants out of the national immigration debate, Instead, it is the weakness of our own splintered voices functioning as individual ethnic organizations instead of a unified coalition. Whereas Latinos seem to have largely succeeded in creating a unified front on immigration reform, Black immigrant groups still struggle to organize around a set of common goals.
This fractured approach became painfully evident when the Administration resumed deportations to Haiti exactly one year after the catastrophic earthquake and amidst a cholera epidemic. Haitian organizations lobbied for relief in the form of Temporary Protected Status (TPS). At the same time, Liberian organizations were separately seeking the renewal of their TPS. The political clout of a coalition able to represent both the Liberian and Haitian community for the exact same status would’ve been unprecedented-unfortunately, no such organization existed. “This has been a wake-up call,” says Marleine Bastien, founder of the advocacy group Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (Haitian Women in Miami). As someone who has been working on immigration reform for almost 20 years, Bastien was “caught off guard by the recent momentum of the Latinos.”