Less than two months into the Trump administration, the harsh and bombastic rhetoric of the campaign is in full swing and fruition.
Nowhere is this more blatantly on display than in the immigration policy. The New York Times reports that Trump is putting into practice the language that he used on the campaign trail, expanding the definition of “criminal aliens” who pose a “threat” to people in the United States to include virtually all undocumented immigrants.
Last week, the administration expanded the freedom of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to arrest and detain anyone they view as a “risk to public safety,” opening the floodgates for racial profiling. Local police officers and sheriffs will be allowed to act as immigration enforcers. Meanwhile, the unconstitutional travel ban launched in January, which focused primarily on seven mainly Muslim nations, is set to be re-released soon in what critics are calling “Travel Ban 2.0.”
Lost underneath the headlines is what all this means to the larger Black community in the U.S. We are here to tell you that much is at stake, and now is not the time to be silent or shy about it.
Let’s start with Somalia, Sudan and Libya being put on the initial “Muslim ban” list. These are countries not only targeted by the anti-Muslim agenda of the administration, but they are also struggling with ongoing wars and a lack of economic opportunity, creating multiple reasons to flee. With Somalis being the third-highest nationality seeking refugee status in the U.S. in the past three years, the effort to send them back is inhumane.
The number of Black immigrants in the U.S. has increased remarkably in recent decades and continues to grow. Population data on Black immigrants are difficult to ascertain, as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) does not track immigration data by race. But analysis by the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) suggests that there are approximately 5 million foreign-born Black individuals living in the U.S. Black immigrants from Haiti, Jamaica, Nigeria and Ethiopia make up a large part of the immigration base.
Although Black immigrants comprise 7 percent of the total population of immigrants, they are more likely than any other group to be deported, an issue not commonly heard in immigration discussions. For example, the mass deportation of 63 Black, African immigrants, mainly asking for protected status in the U.S. based on humanitarian claims, barely gained a mention last year.
If you thought the record number of deportations in the past eight years was scary —a toll that ran up to 2.5 million under the Obama administration—Trump’s agenda should be even more terrifying. Trump’s combination of Islamophobia and racially charged policies creates fear and isolation for immigrants. At the same time, the lack of coverage of issues facing Black immigrants renders them nonexistent and silences their contributions to their communities, especially in the workforce.
Immigrants contribute over $11 billion to the U.S. economy, yet their income does not match their contributions. Statistically, Black immigrants have a lower median annual household income than both the median U.S. household and all immigrants in the U.S., according to the BAJI report The State of Black Immigrants. Not only do Black immigrants earn less income, they have the highest unemployment rate of all immigrant groups, even though they’re the most formally educated.
The economic disparities point to larger systems that make it difficult for Black immigrants to enjoy economic security. “Black immigrants and African-Americans share diverse, rich cultures and a lot of beautiful things, but we also share the global fight against a system that operates on racism,” Opal Tometi, BAJI’s executive director and cofounder of the Black Lives Matter movement, said in an interview with the New York Observer.
Though immigrants are less likely to engage in criminal behavior than native-born U.S. citizens, the new “deportation force” that can target undocumented folks who have not even committed a crime will exacerbate the racial disparities in the immigration enforcement system. Black folks are more likely to be arrested, convicted and imprisoned than any other race, making those who are immigrants, undocumented and Black more vulnerable to criminalization and deportation under the new administration.
This reality mirrors the experience of Black native-born Americans who face similar racial profiling by police. What the Trump administration is unleashing are ramped-up tools to divide families. Our community has to stay vigilant on these issues. We have to be vocal and show our full support. They matter to us, and immigrants are a part of us. We, too, have a lot to lose if our immigrant sisters and brothers lose.
As the now often-cited Holocaust poem of Martin Niemöller ends: “Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Marc Bayard is an associate fellow and the director of the Black Worker Initiative at the Institute for Policy Studies. His family emigrated from Haiti. Follow him on Twitter @MarcBayard. Nia Nyamweya is a staffer at the Institute for Policy Studies. Her father emigrated from Kenya.