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USA/Africa: The State of Black Immigrants
October 11, 2016 (161011)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"The high proportion of immigrants with criminal records who are
targeted for immigration enforcement is the result of an intentional
and pervasive reliance on the machinery of the criminal enforcement
system to identify people for deportation. The criminal enforcement
system--each stage of which has been shown to target Black people
disproportionately--has become a funnel into the immigration
detention and deportation system. " - The State of Black Immigrants
A report from the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) and
the Immigrant Rights Clinic, New York University School of Law,
released in September, provides new well-documented data and policy
analysis on Black immigrants in the United States, primarily
Caribbean and African immigrants. Based on the latest available
statistical data and a careful analysis of migration policies and
their implementation, this report is a basic resource for scholars
and for activists. It includes an informative and detailed glossary
that is essential for those of us who are not specialists in
immigration law and related issues.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains brief excerpts. The full report,
including footnotes, tables, and more detailed analysis and specific
policy recommendations, is available in two parts on-line in pdf
format (http://tinyurl.com/jvaqolo and http://tinyurl.com/jzg9d97).
Two recent articles with related reflections on African immigrants
in the United States are:
"Intersecting Criminalization: What Killed Ugandan Refugee Alfred
Olango," Michelle Chen, Truthout, October 6, 2016
"African immigrants and race in America," Anakwa Dwamena, Africa is
a Country, October 9, 2016
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on migration issues, visit
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The State of Black Immigrants
Black Alliance for Just Immigration
Immigrant Rights Clinic, New York University School of Law
Juliana Morgan-Trostle, Kexin Zheng, and Carl Lipscombe
[Brief excerpts only: full text available at
http://tinyurl.com/jvaqolo (Part I) and http://tinyurl.com/jzg9d97
In an era where #BlackLivesMatter 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 U.S. But unlike Black Americans and immigrants of other
backgrounds, Black immigrants 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 the public consciousness 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 difficulties faced by 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 communities of
color in the United States. Research and readily available data on
Black immigrants is scant.
Even the notion of "Black immigrants" as an identity group is
foreign to most. For this reason, 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 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. While this report
is substantive, it is only the beginning. 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.
Part I: A Statistical Portrait of Black Immigrants in the United
The last four decades have represented a period of significant
demographic change in the United States. Now more than ever, Black
immigrants compose a significant percentage of both immigrant and
Black populations in the U.S. overall. This report presents a
statistical snapshot of the Black immigrant population, drawing upon
recent studies and original analysis.
I. Size and Growth of Black Immigrant Population
Size and growth of the overall population.
The number of Black immigrants in the United States has increased
remarkably in recent decades. Population data on Black immigrants is
difficult to ascertain, as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration
Services does not track immigration data by race. Some studies
suggest that there are as many as 5 million Black immigrants in the
U.S. According to our analysis of the 2014 American Community Survey
(ACS) data, a record estimate of 3.7 million Black immigrants live
in the United States. While this analysis is conservative, it still
represents a four-fold increase when compared to the number of Black
immigrants who lived in the U.S. in 1980 (which was only about
800,000) and a 54% increase from 2000 (roughly 2.8 million).
Percentage of Black population.
The overall growth of the Black immigrant population represents a
significant change in the demographics of both the Black population
and the immigrant population more broadly in the United States.
First, Black immigrants represent an increasing percentage of Black
people in the United States as a whole. The ACS data shows that
while Black immigrants accounted for only 3.1% of the Black
population in the U.S. in 1980, Black immigrants now account for
nearly 10% of the nation's Black population. This growth is
particularly significant in states with the largest number of Black
immigrants. For example in New York, Black immigrants make up almost
30% of the total Black population in the state, making it the top
state for Black immigrants in the U.S. Florida seconds the list with
over 20% of its Black population being foreign-born. The Census
Bureau projects that by 2060, 16.5% of America's Black population
will be foreign-born.
Percentage of the foreign-born population.
Second, Black immigrants make up a significant portion of the
overall immigrant and non-citizen population in the U.S. According
to the 2014 one-year estimates from ACS, the estimated total of
foreign-born population in the U.S. was 42 million, within which
8.7% were Black immigrants. In addition, about 22 million of the
U.S. foreign-born population were non-citizens, among whom 7.2% were
II. Characteristics of the Black Immigrant Population
Diversity based on country or region of origin.
While Black immigrants in the U.S. come from diverse backgrounds and
regions of the world, immigrants from African and Caribbean
countries comprise the majority of the foreign-born Black
population. According to the 2014 ACS data, Jamaica was the top
country of origin in 2014 with 665,628 Black immigrants in the U.S.,
accounting for 18% of the national total. Haiti seconds the list
with 598,000 Black immigrants, making up 16% of the U.S. Black
Although half of Black immigrants are from the Caribbean region
alone, African immigrants drove much of the recent growth of the
Black immigrant population and made up 39% of the total foreignborn
Black population in 2014. The number of African immigrants in
the U.S. increased 153%, from 574,000 in 2000 to 1.5 million in
2014, with Nigeria and Ethiopia as the two leading countries of
origin. Besides African and Caribbean regions, an estimated 4% of
Black immigrants are from South America, another 4% are from Central
America, 2% are from Europe and 1% from Asia.
Length of residency in the U.S.
Black immigrants tend to have lived in the U.S. for long periods of
time, although there are some regional differences in length of
residency. As more African immigrants are recent arrivals, those
from the Caribbean have generally lived in the U.S. longer. ...
Geographic dispersion in the U.S.
The geographic dispersion of Black immigrants is highly
concentrated. New York State is home to 846,730 (23%) Black
immigrants, making it the top state of residence. Florida has the
second largest foreign-born Black population (18%), followed by
Texas (6%) and Maryland (6%). Some Black immigrant communities tend
to cluster together around certain metropolitan areas. For example,
according to the Pew study of 2013 ACS data, New York City is home
to nearly 40% of all foreign-born black Jamaicans in the U.S.; Miami
has the nation's largest Haitian immigrant community; Washington
D.C. has the largest Ethiopian immigrant community; and Somalian
immigrants concentrate in metropolitan areas of Minnesota and
III. Educational Background of Black Immigrants
A significant percentage of Black immigrants have obtained degrees
through higher education, but the percentage remains lower than the
U.S. population as a whole. According to the ACS 2014 data, more
than a quarter (27%) of Black immigrants age 25 and older have a
bachelor's degree or higher, three points below the percentage of
the overall U.S. population. However, the proportion with an
advanced degree is similar among all Americans (11%) and Black
immigrants (10%). When comparing Black immigrants with Asian and
Hispanic immigrants, the differences are more apparent. About 30% of
Asian immigrants age 25 and older have completed at least a fouryear
degree, whereas only 11% of Hispanic immigrants have done so.
Within Black immigrants, educational attainment also varies among
different regions of birth. About 34% of African immigrants age 25
and older have at least a bachelor's degree, including 14% with an
advanced degree. In comparison, only 6.2% of Caribbean immigrants
age 25 and older have an advanced degree. Nonetheless, education
attainment for Black immigrants from Africa is still lower than
those from Europe and Asia, with 16.7% and 18.6% of them have an
advanced degree respectively.
IV. Economic Snapshot of Black Immigrants Household income.
Black immigrants have a lower median annual household income than
the median U.S. household and all immigrants in the U.S. Based on
the Pew study of ACS 2013 data, the median annual household income
for foreign-born blacks was $43,800. That's roughly $8,000 less than
the $52,000 median for American households and $4,200 less than that
of all U.S. immigrants. While the median household income for Black
immigrants is higher than it is for Hispanic immigrants ($38,000),
both groups' numbers are substantially below that of Asian
immigrants, whose median household income is $70,600. ...
According to a 2011 study by the Economic Policy Institute,
Caribbean women earn 8.3% less than U.S. born non-Hispanic white
women; African women earn 10.1% less. When we consider subsets of
Black immigrants, the differences become even more dramatic. For
example, Haitian women earn 18.6% less than U.S. born non-Hispanic
Similarly, Black immigrant men earn lower wages than U.S. born nonHispanic
white men. Caribbean men earn 20.7% less than U.S. born
non-Hispanic white men and African men 34.7%. Notably, as of 2011
Black immigrant men also earned lower wages than African American
males. While earnings for Caribbean men were just 1% less than those
of African-Americans, African men earned nearly 15% less than US
Born Black men.
Black Immigrants in the Workforce.
Black immigrants are more likely to participate in the labor force
than the overall immigrant population. The Bureau of Labor
Statistics reports that 70.8% of Black immigrants participate in the
civilian labor force.
Black immigrants maintain higher rates of employment in service and
sales positions than their counterparts of other immigrant
backgrounds. Other areas of employment for Black immigrants include
management, finance, and construction.
The percentage of unionized Black immigrants has nearly doubled over
the last 20 years from 7% in 1994 to 15.4% in 2015. Black immigrants
are more likely than Black Americans to be unionized. 16.9% of Black
immigrants are union members, compared to 13.8% of Black Americans.
Unionization has proven to have a positive impact on the livelihood
of Black workers. On average Black union members, earn nearly $7
more per hour than non-union Black workers. 71.4% of Black union
members have employer-provided health care, compared to 47.7% of
non-union Black workers. 61.6% of Black union members have employersponsored
retirement plans, compared to 38.2% of non-union Black
V. Immigration Status and Means of Entry
The majority of Black immigrants are living in the U.S. with formal
immigration authorization. According to a Pew study, about 84% of
the Black immigrant population are living in the U.S. with
authorization. This section of the report presents details about
Black immigrants by immigration status.
Undocumented Community Members
When compared with the overall share of undocumented immigrants in
the country--about a quarter of the total immigrant population--
Black immigrants are less likely to be in the U.S. unlawfully. An
estimated 575,000 Black immigrants were living in the U.S. without
authorization in 2013, according to the Pew Research Center study,
making up 16% of all Black immigration population. Among Black
immigrants from the Caribbean, 16% are undocumented immigrants and
as are 13% of Black immigrants from Africa. ...
When compared with the increase of undocumented immigrant population
from other regions of the world, African and Caribbean unauthorized
immigrants are growing at a lower rate since 2000 than those from
Central America (194% without Mexico) and Asia (202%), but faster
than those from South America (39%) and Europe (62%).
Part II: Black Immigrants in the Mass Criminalization System
I. Targeting Immigrants with Criminal Convictions
"Good" vs. "Bad" Migrants
In creating a "good" versus "bad" migrant binary, President Obama
sought to justify a detention and removal campaign that oversaw the
deportation of a record 438,421 immigrants in fiscal year 2013 --an
increase that has led some to refer to President Obama as "deporterin
-chief." Since the start of Obama's administration in 2008, 2.9
million immigrants have been deported from the United States, a
majority of whom (58%) have a criminal record.
"Felons" vs. "Families"
In a national address in November 2014, President Obama announced
that he would focus immigration enforcement resources on individuals
with criminal records--"felons, not families." This phrase has been
widely criticized as devaluing and dehumanizing individuals with
criminal convictions. After all, "felons" have families, too.
The government's increasing focus on immigrants with criminal
records disproportionately impacts Black immigrants, who are more
likely than immigrants from other regions to have criminal
convictions, or at least to be identified through interactions with
local law enforcement, because of rampant racial profiling.
President Obama's address to the nation coincided with the
Department of Homeland Security's release of a memo outlining new
immigration enforcement priorities. DHS noted that it would continue
to prioritize national security, border security, and public safety,
and went on to rank certain classes of immigrants in order of
enforcement priority, with a significant focus on targeting people
with criminal records.
Intensification of ICE Removals
Following the November 2014 DHS memo, ICE implemented the revised
Civil Immigration Enforcement Priorities (CIEP) in FY 2015, which
intensified the focus on removing people with criminal convictions
and recent entrants. The highest priority for enforcement resources,
known as "Priority 1," groups together immigrants "engaged in or
suspected of terrorism or espionage" along with individuals
"apprehended at the border while attempting to unlawfully enter the
United States." This includes asylum seekers, immigrants convicted
of a felony offense and immigrants convicted of an "aggravated
felony" as defined in section 101(a) (43) of the Immigration and
Nationality Act. The term "aggravated felony" includes offenses that
are neither aggravated nor felonies and has been expanded over time
to include, for example, a single theft offense with a suspended
one-year sentence involving no actual jail time. The memo's secondhighest
priority for detention and deportation, "Priority 2,"
includes immigrants convicted of three or more misdemeanor offenses,
individuals with a "significant misdemeanor" including drug
"distribution" offenses, and people who entered the United States
unlawfully after January 1, 2014. The final category, "Priority 3,"
includes immigrants who were ordered deported after January 1, 2014.
ICE continues to remove individuals who do not fall under these
revised categories if their removal would serve an important
Blacks are Disproportionately Represented in the Criminal
Black people are far more likely than any other population to be
arrested, convicted, and imprisoned in the U.S. criminal enforcement
system--the system upon which immigration enforcement increasingly
relies. Black people are arrested at 2.5 times the rate of whites.
They are more likely than whites to be sentenced to prison, and less
likely to be sentenced to probation. According to the FBI Criminal
Justice Information Services Division, of the total individuals
arrested in 2014, 69.4% were white, 27.8% were Black or African
American, and 3% were of another race. These arrest rates
demonstrate that Black and African American individuals are arrested
at a higher rate than their overall percentage in the population.
These disparities exist even when crime rates are the same; for
example, although Blacks and whites use marijuana at roughly equal
rates, Black people are 3.7 times more likely than whites to be
arrested for marijuana possession.
Targeting Immigrants with Criminal Records
Despite racial disparities in criminal enforcement, the federal
government prioritizes the deportation and detention of individuals
with criminal records. In FY 2015, ICE deported 139,368 people with
criminal convictions, which represented 59% of all ICE removals. The
percentage of people targeted for deportation by ICE based on their
criminal records rose from 82% in FY 2013 to 91% in FY 2015. Many of
their records involved drug-related convictions. In FY 2003-2013,
drug offenses, including simple drug possession, accounted for
almost a quarter of all criminal removals.
Three federal agencies are tasked with enforcing immigration laws:
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Customs and
Border Patrol (CBP), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Although immigration law is federal, the U.S. government has
instructed state and local law enforcement agencies to assist with
The high proportion of immigrants with criminal records who are
targeted for immigration enforcement is the result on an intentional
and pervasive reliance on the machinery of the criminal enforcement
system to identify people for deportation. The criminal enforcement
system--each stage of which has been shown to target Black people
disproportionately--has become a funnel into the immigration
detention and deportation system.
Immigrants are exposed to more risks and vulnerability when they are
stopped by the police for minor offenses, such as broken taillights
and traffic violations. When the police decide to take on the duties
of federal immigration enforcement, they often use these stops to
question people about their immigration status and to turn
immigrants over to ICE. Several federal programs have made it easier
for police to expose immigrants with past criminal records.
Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act authorizes the
Department of Homeland Security to partner with state and local law
enforcement agencies. The 287(g) Program's Jail Enforcement Teams
interview arrestees regarding their immigration status. ... The
National Fugitive Operations Program (NFOP) was established on
January 25, 2002. Immediately following the events of September 11,
2001, the Justice Department increased efforts to deport immigrants
with old removal orders. ... Many individuals identified and
deported through this program lived in the United States for many
years and have significant family and community ties. NFOP also
dispatches Fugitive Operations Teams (FOTs) across the country to
arrest "fugitives" and specifically focuses on "residential
operations." In late 2006, FOTs began conducting raids more
aggressively and demanding document checks on long-distance buses
and trains. They also arrest people on the streets, in their homes,
and at their workplaces if they cannot produce status documents. FOT
practices have been challenged, especially for home raids, based on
the lack of judicial warrants or probable cause. The program was
still in effect at the time of this report's publication.
When an individual is arrested and booked by a police officer, his
or her fingerprints are sent to the FBI. Through the Priority
Enforcement Program (PEP), state and local law enforcement agencies
share data with immigration enforcement. PEP replaced its
predecessor program, Secure Communities, in July 2015. Under PEP,
this same information is sent to the Department of Homeland
Security, which checks its own databases to determine whether the
individual is a "priority for removal" as described in Secretary Jeh
Johnson's November 20, 2014 memorandum. ICE will then ask the law
enforcement agency to notify ICE of the individual's release--or
detain the individual past the time that he or she otherwise would
have been released--so ICE may pick the individual up, resulting in
his or her immediate transfer to ICE custody. ...
Many jails and prisons also participate in the Criminal Alien
Program (CAP), which seeks to identify, arrest, and deport
individuals who are incarcerated in federal, state, and local
prisons and jails, as well as "at-large criminal aliens that have
circumvented identification." Law enforcement agencies notify ICE's
office of Detention and Removal Operations, which administers CAP,
of foreign-born detainees in their custody. ICE then attempts to
secure their final orders of removal before they are released from
The programs described in this section employ the use of
"detainers," also known as "immigration holds," to facilitate ICE's
capture of the immigrants that the agency identifies. Detainer use
peaked in March 2011 and then fell steadily; however, it stabilized
as of October 2015, with ICE issuing approximately 7,000 detainers
per month. ...
Criminal Charges and Disposition
Immigration enforcement is increasingly present in local jails.
Often, an ICE officer will try to interview noncitizens while in
custody and then initiate paperwork for the removal process if an
individual is determined to be deportable. After an individual or
person charged with a crime, he or she may be confronted with a
choice to plead guilty to a lesser offense. Immigrants are
particularly vulnerable to guilty pleas that may later lead to
removal proceedings. ...
A criminal conviction could trigger mandatory detention, deportation
and ineligibility to reenter the United States. It may also serve as
a bar to U.S. citizenship, eligibility to obtain a green card, and
various forms of relief from deportation, such as asylum or
withholding of removal. A conviction will remain permanently in an
individual's immigration file unless it can be "vacated," that is
removed, by a judge on the basis of some error in the underlying
Serving a sentence may result in further immigration scrutiny or
even removal prior to release. The Institutional Removal Program
(IRP) is a nationwide Department of Homeland Security initiative
that purports to identify removable immigrants who are incarcerated,
ensure they are not released into the community, and remove them
upon completion of sentences. IRP has the effect of forcing
incarcerated noncitizens into deportation proceedings from within
the very prisons to which they are confined, often in the form of
"video hearings" that take place from a room within prison. As a
result, inmates are isolated from all other parties, including the
judge, the prosecutor, the interpreter, witnesses, and sometimes
even their own lawyer. ...
We have concluded from the overwhelming amount of data that the
racialized criminalization evident in the immigration enforcement
system has an acute impact on the state of Black immigrants in the
U.S.. This result is partially due to discriminatory policing
practices and criminal penalties that adversely affect all Black
people. Simultaneously, our analysis of the data suggests that
racial inequities, evidenced by disproportionate, negative outcomes
for Black people, in removal proceedings, also persist in the
immigration enforcement system.
It is the Black Alliance for Just Immigration's view that the
immigration system must be upended and redesigned to ensure that
those entering the U.S. seeking work, refuge or reunification with
their families and communities, are treated fairly and with dignity.
This transformation can begin by divorcing the U.S. mass
criminalization and immigration enforcement regimes. For this
reason, the repeal of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant
Responsibility Act ("IIR-IRA") and Anti-terrorism and Effective
Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"), commonly known as the "1996 immigration
laws," in favor of policies that shift the focus away from criminal
contact as the deciding factor as it pertains to one's immigration
status in the US by Congress, is BAJI's primary policy
The 1996 immigration laws expanded the grounds for deportation,
broadened classes of mandatory detention, stripped away judicial
discretion and the right to due process and retroactively punished
those who already served time for their offenses. As this report has
highlighted, Black immigrants have been disproportionately affected
by these laws. The 20th anniversary of IIR-IRA and AEDPA, along with
the current political climate, presents an opportunity to
reinvigorate the movement to upend the nation's immigration
Just as African-Americans suffer disproportionately high arrest,
prosecution and incarceration rates, so too are Black immigrants.
This occurs despite no evidence that they engage in more
criminalized activities in comparison to any other racial group.
Black immigrants are also disproportionately impacted by the
compounding impact of the immigration enforcement system. Numerous
federal agencies and programs work in conjunction with local law
enforcement to criminalize, detain and deport immigrants. The racism
present in the criminal legal system spills over and informs the
immigration enforcement system, and thus it naturally and unjustly
targets Black immigrants at all stages of the process. As the number
of Black immigrants living in the United States continues to rise,
debates around immigration must acknowledge and rectify the
injustice inherent in these enforcement and deportation systems.
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