Black Like Me: Black Immigration Conference in Miami

by Pascal Robert

Photos by Kevin Banatte[Dream Defenders Communications

Relentless forces, internal and external, seek to pit Black Americans and immigrants against one another. However, many immigrants are Black and subject to the same mass incarceration policies as African Americans. “Immigration is a racial justice issue that needs a progressive African American voice,” according to a just-concluded conference in Miami.

Black Like Me: Black Immigration Conference in Miami

by Pascal Robert

The broader policy initiatives that are economically hurting Blacks in the United States and the immigrant community in their respective countries stem from the same problems caused by global capitalism.”

From May 23 to May 25, 2014 in the Little Haiti district of Miami, Florida a conference attended by over 150 activists and community leaders from around the country came together to discuss immigration as a racial justice issue. Rarely is immigration in corporate media depicted as an issue of concern to Black Americans. Cynical anti-immigrant forces sometimes try to use the issue as a wedge to cause division between communities of color who all share the common enemies of racism and economic exploitation. However, the Black Immigration Network, a consortium of racial justice activists, community leaders, and immigrant’s rights activists realizes that the similarity between the plight of Black Americans and the immigrant community on core issues such as mass incarceration, immigrant detention, globalization, and reactionary racism require a combined effort in the age of neoliberal capitalism.  

The Black Immigration Network’s Kinship Assembly in Miami was spearheaded by the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, (BAJI) a Brooklyn, New York based organization founded in 2006 by community leaders who realized that immigration is a racial justice issue that needed a progressive African American voice. In speaking with the Co-Director of BAJI, Gerald Lenoir, the importance of understanding immigration from a racial justice perspective became clear. Lenoir explained that contrary to the notion that immigrants are simply coming to the United States seeking the American dream, a better analysis shows how American policies around globalization destabilize the economic opportunities for immigrants in their respective countries through tactics such as destroying domestic agricultural production in those countries. Lenoir emphasises that the same way the African American community lost jobs after the 60s Black Power era because of urban de-industrialization fostered by globalization and free trade agreements, the various poor countries where immigrants migrate from had their respective economies ravaged by those same policies. Therefore, BAJI understands the broader policy initiatives that are economically hurting Blacks in the United States and the immigrant community in their respective countries stem from the same problems caused by global capitalism.

American policies around globalization destabilize the economic opportunities for immigrants in their respective countries.”

BAJI also focuses on one of the most vexing issues facing Black America and ties it into the need for immigration justice: mass incarceration and immigrant detention. A subject that received great attention at the Black Immigration Network’s Kinship Assembly was how mass incarceration, the private prison industry, immigrant deportation, and racial profiling all stem from the same racist obsession with locking up Black and brown bodies. The conference highlighted that Black Caribbean and African Immigrants were represented among immigrant detainees five times their number in the overall undocumented community. As Gerald Lenoir explained, Black immigrants are being racially profiled to be locked up in immigrant detention the same way African Americans are being racially profiled for mass incarceration.  Lenoir explained how federal policies such as using Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Holds (I.C.E. HOLDS) and “Secure Communities,” programs ramped up in the Obama age have caused the detention and deportation of over two million undocumented immigrants. Such numbers are unprecedented causing Obama to be deemed by immigrants rights activists as the “detainer and chief.”

When speaking to Terrence Courtney, the Southeast Regional Organizer for BAJI he stated, “The Connection between mass incarceration, immigrant detention and deportation is important because it connects the life experiences of Black people in America to those particularly in the Black immigrant community since they are overwhelming targets of such detention.” Courtney further stated, “Incarceration and immigrant detention are a means of social control in neoliberal capitalism because they force people into limited options of low wage labor and social stigmatization.”  

Courtney especially highlighted the issue of Black female incarceration, detention, and deportation. He shared, “Often when discussing mass incarceration and immigrant detention the discourse is framed in a male gendered fashion. In reality, the fastest rate of incarceration in America today is among Black women and this also provides opportunity to justify cuts in social services these women tend to greatly depend on.” Courtney continued, “Black American and Black Immigrant women are disproportionately affected by neoliberal privatization of government services whether they be public hospitals being privatized, municipal transportation, or corporate charter schools due to their roles as caretakers of children.”

The similar economic plight of Black Immigrants and Black Americans is something Courtney further emphasised. He stated, “Black foreign born workers have the highest rates of unemployment and the lowest wages of any foreign born racial groups the same way Black Americans have the highest rates of unemployment and lowest wages of any U.S. citizens.”

In discussing the prospects of comprehensive immigration reform Lenoir stated that the last proposal which came out of the U.S. Senate was horrible. The proposals did not view immigration justice as a family based issue but a merit based issue. Moreover, the focus on reducing immigrants to temporary workers who could be recycled back in and out of the country violated the spirit of true immigration reform.

Black immigrants are being racially profiled to be locked up in immigrant detention the same way African Americans are being racially profiled for mass incarceration.”

Gerald Lenoir also discussed the importance of Haiti as model for America’s unjust treatment of immigrants and pernicious economic policy as key concern of the Black Immigration Network. Reuniting Families is a sponsored program that tries to connect Haitians with visas who are stuck in the immigration backlog with their family members. Lenoir explains that Haiti represents the best example of how race and immigration issues come together to oppress the Black undocumented community.

In line with bringing together issues concerning African Americans with the immigrant community, the Black Immigration Network Kinship Assembly also held panels lead by the Dream Defenders on taking over the Florida Capitol to fight “Stand Your Ground” laws, A “Free Marissa Alexander” forum held by the Black Women Cultural Alliance as well as an African Diaspora Dialog. The conference was attended by Black American, Haitian, Afro-Caribbean, African, and Latino activists and leaders all working toward racial and immigration justice.

The Black Immigration Network Kinship Assembly represented the best traditions of community activism around important issues of racial justice and immigrant rights. For such a young organization, the synergy and vision of these activists provides a glimmer of hope in a period where movement activism is truly needed to address the status quo agenda.

Pascal Robert is an Iconoclastic Haitian American Lawyer, Blogger, and Online Activist for Haiti. For years his work appeared under the Blog Thought Merchant: You can also find his work on the Huffington Post here: He can be reached via twitter at @probert06 or [email protected]



"However, many immigrants are

"However, many immigrants are Black and subject to the same mass incarceration policies as African Americans."

This is just a tool to lure us into supporting immigration from Black populations, many of whom are generally as hostile toward us as their white masters.

Immigration should NOT and will NEVER be our struggle in the US. We have reparations, land-reclamation, and right-to-life issues (e.g. lynchings, assassinations) we need to fight for and are spreading ourselves thin by also now being asked to fight for immigrants who conveniently use a shared Black skin to lure us into fighting their battles.

Where are these Black "brothers" when we're fighting for reparations, for indigenous rights including tax-exemption and free education and sovereignty, and right-to-life? I've yet to see these Black "brothers" as immigrants you speak of.

In the end, in our own struggles, as usual, we are alone. We must fight our own battles. Not leave ourselves crippled, on the ground, and swinging to protect others when we've yet to even protect ourselves.

And by the way, saying we're subject to the same policies is over-simplifying the issue. Because while you may CHOOSE to come here and can go home as you please when you don't like the policies, we DID NOT choose to come here. And when the policies here are too much to bear, we have no Caribbean or "other" countries welcoming us to their borders. All of those countries are aware of the human rights abuses and slavery policies we're subjected to. But not one of them has opened their borders to us in response.

We are NOT subject to the same. You have a choice. We have none. You expect us to welcome you. But today, does your country welcome us??

Or do they demand that we just stay here and take the human rights abuses we're subjected to...then send their people over to benefit from our sacrifice and struggle?

You're trying to convince us that we should not have our own interests and protect those interests. You're trying to convince us that our interests should always be aligned with yours. This is self-sabotage and I and my family will never submit to that madness. Before you ask me to fight for immigration in the US, open your own country to immigration by us. Welcome us to your borders. Maybe then you'll get a better response.

The rights that many immigrants to the US enjoy today are rights that were hard-fought for by my people. And we've been mistreated, abused, and denigrated by those same immigrants who've laid back on their laurels and enjoyed the very rights we're responsible for them having in the first place.

We need to fight for ourselves and our own interests. Instead of focusing on everyone else. Protect our own interests, instead of being used and abused by every "Black-when-convenient"group that comes along to exploit us and our influence/political power.

Then when they've gotten what they wanted from us, they're back to being "latino" or "caribbean". We've played this game and most won't be lured by it again.


What you've said, Drammond, is right on!  Now, while I share your sentiments about the plight of immigrants vs. the plight of black folks, your words most aptly apply to non-blacks from the European immigrants to Asians, Arabs, & Latinos.  Most black immigrants get lumped in with us whether they want to or not. So, I do seek solidarity with them.  Nonetheless, your points are largely true. We should unite among ourselves and fight our own battles.

Your comments are just more

Your comments are just more of the divide and conquer people, whether born here in the US or in the diaspora--all fight the same enemy--white supremacist ideology/global apartheid. When we rail against immigrants, we are in effect, sounding like house nigras, lamenting about field negroes trying to take our lil bit of scraps. It's meant to divide us over superficial bs. It's ALL scraps, while the white man has all the unearned loot and booty that he's stolen and amassed after millenia of screwing US ALL OVER. Immigrants are NOT our enemy. The system of global apartheid is. Let us never lose sight of that.

I have also heard (and don't know if it's true)..that black immigrants when coming to the US, are shown films/videos about US born blacks that effectively tell them to stay away from us...I don't know if anyone can confirm this, but again, this would be the system's usual modus operandi.

And finally, I consider US born blacks to be prisoners of war, not citizens. I may be in the minority on this but we certainly historically have never been treated as citizens--but our labor, assets, both intellectual and monetary are exploited at every turn. Hell, we all are nazi concentration camp prisoners. Most of us just don't realize it. And we all  know that pretty much any WHITE immigrant can walk off a plane or boat and enjoy more rights than those of us whose presence on this continent can be traced back centuries, if not more. If THAT isn't emblematic of the REAL problem, I don't know what is?