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In The Story Of U.S. Immigration, Black Immigrants Are Often Left Out

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

All this month, we've been spotlighting community organizations across the country that are shaping Black history for the future. And we end this series with a look at the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, BAJI for short, a nonprofit group that tries to advocate for the millions of Black migrant families who live in the United States and many more in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America who seek sanctuary here. Nana Gyamfi is executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and joins us now. Ms. Gyamfi, thanks so much for being here.

NANA GYAMFI: Thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: So many of the stories of Black migrants are just very different from what we think of as that big push of immigrants that fanned out across the United States. How do their experiences differ and what they faced differ?

GYAMFI: So Black migrants face a lot of challenges that other migrant groups do not face or don't face to the same degree, much of that rooted in the racial inequality, the anti-Blackness that is inherently part of this country. When we see who, for example, is being let into the United States and we look at Black migrants, we don't have the same numbers. We're very dependent upon visas, such as diversity visas. And we find that over time, there's always been these attacks on the types of visas that allow Black migrants to be connected to their families here in the United States. As Black immigrants, we are much more likely to find ourselves in detention or deportation proceedings because we've been pulled over by the police in the way that so many Black people we hear about. And then when we look at separation, that's often a conversation that is focused on brown folks. But as Black migrants, we find ourselves separated through the criminal sanction system, through child services and the social services system, separated in detention, separated by deportation.

SIMON: Do Black migrants have to contend with the border in the same way some other groups do?

GYAMFI: So when you look at where - how Black migrants are coming to the border, most of them are coming in through either Central or South America. They've got to cross these spaces, spaces that even within those countries have anti-Blackness. They deal with the fact that they don't speak the language. They are often refused medical care, refused housing, been told we don't know how to teach Black children. I think of this Angolan woman. She flew in through Ecuador with her husband and her seven children, and they finally made it into Mexico where they were immediately detained and held in prison there. When they were finally released, there was no place for them to stay. They had to sleep on the streets, as many Black migrants are forced to do. And as she was talking about this difficulty that she was going through, really tears streaming down her face, she then said, but I can't wait till we go to America where we'll be able to find safety and security and refuge.

And, Scott, we were trying to figure out what safety is she going to have in the United States? Botham Jean's family from St. Lucia thought he had safety, and he was killed in his own apartment eating ice cream and watching television. Where are they going to live with a nine-person family? And what kind of discrimination are they going to face as Black people? It was heartbreaking to hear of her hopes and aspirations when we know what it means to be Black in the United States. And that's why we work at the intersection of immigration and racial justice. We must fight alongside African Americans if any of us are to be free.

SIMON: And yet there are some divides, aren't there?

GYAMFI: The information that we get from outside of this country makes some of us feel like, hey, once you get to America, you're supposed to make it. So it's looking around at what's happening with African Americans makes it appear as if something's deficient about them. And so it's important to have conversations about the impact of racism on African Americans in this country. It's important for us as Black migrants to understand it impacts us the same way.

SIMON: You know, speaking with you, I mean, I'm thinking of Shirley Chisholm. I'm thinking of the Johnson brothers, a lot of other history we could go over - couldn't we? - that's tied up with Black migrants.

GYAMFI: Absolutely. We've got to think of Marcus Mosiah Garvey from Jamaica. He and other folks in the Caribbean really defined in Harlem what Black liberation movements meant. We have to think of Kwame Ture, also known as Stokely Carmichael, who was from Trinidad, Audre Lorde, both her parents being from the Caribbean. And then, you know, we can bring it even, even closer - right? - to Nse Ufot, the executive director of The New Georgia Project, working to register over half a million people in Georgia, as well as fighting against voter suppression.

SIMON: Ms. Gyamfi, there's been a change in administration. The new administration seems to be in the process of announcing a lot of changes to immigration policy. I wonder if you have hope.

GYAMFI: You know, unfortunately, over a thousand Black people have been deported to the Caribbean and the continent just since the inauguration. And we see the Biden bill and the immigration bill and the newest enforcement memo still targets those who are criminalized, those who are excluded, which means that it's targeting Black migrants. But where we can find hope is our people are ready to continue to fight. And so my hope lies in us.

SIMON: Nana Gyamfi is executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

GYAMFI: Thank you so much for having me again. It was a joy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.