Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Charlotte Post - Color of getting to America

Color of getting to America

After years of non-action and adverse action from differing political groups, persuasions and governmental entities, the issue of immigration almost immediately gained more serious national attention following the re-election of President Barack Obama.

While most people think primarily of Hispanics and Asians when the topic of immigration comes up, there are number of people of African descent that fall into the immigrant population as well.

"Blacks only make up around 10 percent of the immigrant population," said Opal Tometi of the Black Alliance, citing United States Department of Immigration statistics. "Yet, blacks are five times more likely to be detained or deported."
The immigration issue has seen many changes and developments over the years, but it has typically been driven by a key interest—American corporate and business needs.

Corporations have always sought to exploit cheap labor while American laborers have sought better wages as immigrants have challenged them for jobs.

Race and ethnicity have often been a bedrock component of American immigration, including the slave trade, the Chinese railroad workers, and Hispanics in agriculture. Laws tended to change once usefulness has been absorbed or because of challenges.

In 1790, Congress passed a law allowing the naturalization of free White persons, a racial requirement for American citizenship, which remained on the books until 1952. In 1907, the U.S. and Japan entered into a diplomatic agreement—not bound by law, yet adhered to—where Japan agreed to only emigrate educated or business-engaged Japanese, and Japan would also withhold skilled and unskilled laborers, along with those affected by mental or physical disabilities.

President Theodore Roosevelt agreed to desegregate California schools in exchange. This reversed a practice where Asians in Northern California were educated separately from the larger student population much as Blacks were in the South.

The Immigration Act of 1917 added a literacy test and designated Asia as a barred zone, allowing only Japanese and Philippine immigrants. A barred zone limits the number people allowed to come into the U.S. from a certain area.

Race was further embedded in immigration law in 1882 when Chinese were prevented from entry into the U.S. by the Chinese Exclusion Act. The act was repealed in 1943 during World War II as the nation warred against the Germans and Japanese because, some historians say, Chinese were needed for military intelligence against Japan.

At one time, American immigration was limited to a certain number of people per year pursuant to federal law, and was considered as enforcement and aid to American culture, democracy, national defense and security.

It was not until the Immigration Act of 1965, which was encouraged and only made possible by the civil rights movement and the ensuing Voting Rights Act of 1965, that race-based immigration admission was replaced by criteria that involved skills, profession or by family relation to U.S. citizens.

Currently, the White House and the Senate Bipartisan Committee on Immigration Reform have both drafted plans that include an eventual pathway to permanent citizenship for the thousands of people who entered the U.S. illegally, but they don't yet agree on details. Both do, however, agree that applicants pay fines, taxes, wait in line behind current green-card applicants, and learn to speak English.
Many hard line Republicans, however, have been less willing to consider permanent citizenship.

The Bipartisan Policy Center, a quasi-outside governmental advisory group (a think tank that advocates for bipartisan solutions to government problems) has enlisted Republicans Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, to team with Democrats including Henry Cisneros, former HUD secretary and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.

The committee is chaired by Rebecca Talent, former chief of staff to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). This bipartisan panel will also look at issues such as increased border enforcement, issuance of green cards for students that graduate with degrees in science and math in effort to draft further detailed proposals on which both parties can agree. It will forward recommendations to Congress and the president.
Black immigrants largely have not been mentioned in the immigration discussion, because the emphasis has been on immigrants of Hispanic and Asian heritage.

Many obvious and obscure issues surround immigration reform that include the rights of dreamers (the American-born children of illegal immigrants) and farm workers, who make up a large portion of the immigrant population. Other issues surround students who may or may not be in America legally, some who arrived with their parent or parents as babies or small children, some who came on their own as minors, and those who are in America on temporary status.

"The time for immigration reform is long overdue, and we applaud the president . . . for proposing a common sense, compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform plan that provides a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants who currently reside in the United States," said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten in a statement. "The president's blueprint for reform and the U.S. Senate bipartisan framework shows an understanding that our nation has always been enriched by immigrants and strengthened by the diversity they bring. His proposal strengthens our borders, ensures (that) immigrant children can go to school without fear, keeps families together, and promotes safe and secure jobs for all workers. His continued support of the Dream Act gives dreamers the chance to dream by giving hard-working students who play by the rules an opportunity to pursue a college degree."

While the subset of issues regarding immigrant children has many different facets, dreamers have a good outlook because most Americans are empathetic to children and the Dreamer cause. Some other groups have not received the same attention or empathy.

"The president's immigration reform proposal contained no surprises," said Black Alliance for Just Immigration Executive Director Gerald Lenoir in a statement. "President Obama proposed a broad legalization program with few details. It is very positive that he includes agricultural workers in the legalization program, but it is disappointing that he made no mention of providing permanent legal status to the thousand(s) of immigrants who have Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforcement Departure Status. It is also a concern that the president wants undocumented immigrants who qualify to go to the back of the line, which means that the legalization process will take years and years. And those deemed criminals will be left out altogether."

"The president also promised to continue down the path of more militarization of the border that has caused a record number of deaths in the desert," he continued, "and more detentions and deportations that have split families apart and caused great hardships. This is unacceptable. The president's proposal fails to address the root causes of migrants, like the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has allowed U.S. corporate farmers to dump low-cost corn and other agricultural products into the Mexican economy, forcing millions of Mexican farmers who cannot compete to leave their farms and migrate to the United States."

"The Black Alliance for Just Immigration and its partner organizations in the Black Immigration Network and the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights will fight for a fairer and more just immigration policy that prioritizes human rights above discriminatory enforcement policies and that places the highest premium on family reunification and a much broader legalization program," Lenoir concluded.

Not all of the organizational members of the BIN totally agree with Lenoir and BAJI. For the sake of clarity and also in fairness, NAFTA was instituted under former President Bill Clinton, and although controversial and contested, many credit the agreement in part with aiding the country's ability to recover from the economic downturn and near recession left by the former President Bush that Clinton succeeded.

Tometi is the network coordinator of the BIN steering committee and also works with Black She believes that the growth of immigrant detention has been influenced by federal enforcement activities that historically target people of African descent.

"The fact is that black immigrants make up 10 percent of the foreign-born population," Tometi said.

"African immigrants are the most highly educated of all immigrant groups in the U.S., yet black migrants in general face unprecedented adversity and are often forgotten in the immigration debate.

What's worse (is) black immigrants who are out of status (do not have current green cards, work visas or other similar documentation) are being detained and overrepresented in immigration detention despite their small numbers in the larger population.

"This mirrors the similar type of overrepresentation of African Americans in the criminal justice system. The impact of racial profiling across the board impacts all Black communities regardless of where they were born. And this is very pronounced in a city like New York City where Jamaicans, Haitians and Dominicans have the highest deportation numbers. This ultimately means thousands of families being torn apart and fragmented communities."

"The notion that we need to increase border security is rooted in fear," Tometi continued. "As a person originally from Arizona who lived in Tucson for some years, I know that increased border patrol is not what is needed. There are several reports that show the increased militarization of the border has led to hundreds of deaths over the years as well as unprecedented levels of violence in border towns.

People there feel as though the border patrol has invaded their towns. Residents are at risk of being profiled every day just because of how they look or their accent. Families who have had roots in these areas for generations are now being subjected to harassment because they all of a sudden don't look 'American.'

"Additionally, increased border security doesn't just include the U.S./Mexico border," Tometi continued.

"It includes any port of entry to the U.S. This means airports, all states that are along any coast, and the U.S.-Canadian border. This type of escalation in enforcement has implications (for) U.S. Citizens and migrants alike. We see the Congressional Black Caucus as major advocates for just immigration reform.

CBC members are in tune with their members and know that comprehensive immigration reform will impact black immigrant and African American constituencies.

"Members know about the types of injustice (that) black immigrants face. It's great to see the visionary leadership that is coming from CBC members such as Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Representative Karen Bass, Representative Hakeem Jeffries, and Representative John Conyers. They get the issues and have listened to members of the Black Immigration Network from throughout the country."

"Our network is hopeful that President Obama will become more in touch with his own family's story of migration and be found on the right side of history," she continued further. "More than comprehensive immigration reform, I want just immigration reform. This means full citizenship for all of us. Whether (that means) prioritizing temporary status holders to keeping black immigrant families (together), eliminating the practice of mass incarceration through enforcement, or promoting economic justice, sensible immigration reform is ultimately about a citizenship that goes beyond legal status. It reflects a people's right to pursue the universal ideals of happiness and freedom, regardless of how people have arrived."

Law enforcement organizations such as the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency and U.S. Customs say residents along the U.S./Mexican border face increased danger posed by the growing influx of drug trafficking. Drug cartels have become larger and typically employ illegal emigrants from Mexico and others to transport drugs. Further danger is prevalent because cartels also widely add to the steady army of pedestrian border crossings by either forcing or paying otherwise harmless border crossers (known as mules) to carry drugs.

Another illegal element is that of human traffickers. This practice is also common with Asian immigrants.

The United Farm Workers has a large stake in any legislation that is proposed because it mostly, if not solely, represents the largely populated migrant farm workers in America, who comprise a major portion of immigrants, especially in California and the Southwestern states. UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez joined President Obama at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nev., on Jan. 29, as the president laid out his proposed plan for immigration reform.

"We take heart from three commitments firmly articulated by President Obama in his address," Rodriguez said in a statement. "Now is the time to move swiftly forward on a new immigration process in reality and not just preachment, a process that brings long-overdue recognition to hard-working, tax-paying immigrants whose hard labor and sacrifice feed all of America and much of the world."

"We are cheered by the president's insistence on a clear and unequivocal road map to citizenship," he continued. "We join President Obama in being encouraged by the bipartisan framework outlined by the senators. We also applaud the president's vow that if Congress does not act in short order, he will move forward with his own bill based on the principles he has outlined, and insist on a vote."

Bruce Mirken of the Greenlining Institute was soberly optimistic, but says "the devil is in the details. There are a few basic principles that we think are essential," he said. "One of them is that there has to be a true path to citizenship. Another is that there really has to be an emphasis on family reunification. The rules now can force families to be separated for years before they can be reunited and safely in the country. We are very skeptical about the suggestions for a guest worker program, which basically sets up a group of second-class citizens—workers who are really dependent on the employers who brought them here and essentially have no legal bargaining power or legal right to organize," said Mirken. "This is a situation that is bad for them and bad for workers in general."

"There is a whole range of issues that need to be dealt with in a humane way," Mirken concluded. "I think (that) it's safe to say that there will be a segment of business people who will always try to get as much work out of people for as little as they can, and give workers as few rights as they can. They and their pet politicians will try to use this as they will other issues, anti-union efforts, etc., to try to tilt the playing fields in their direction. Just calling something comprehensive immigration reform doesn't necessarily make it a good deal. It's got to give people some dignity."

Georgia High School Students Fight Against Segregated Prom

Georgia High School Students Fight Against Segregated Prom

Students at a high school in Georgia are trying to put an end to a tradition of a segregated prom, an event so entrenched in the small community that police have even led away biracial students from the whites only dance.

The segregated prom has been a tradition at Wilcox County High School, with separate dances for each race for as long as people can remember. Homecoming at the school has normally been segregated as well, with different courts for each race.

Though the school nixed the segregated courts at this year's homecoming — allowing a black student to be elected homecoming queen — there were still two separate dances.

"I felt like there had to be a change," said Quanesha Wallace, a student at the high school and this year's homecoming queen. "For me to be a black person and the king to be a white person, I felt like why can't we come together."

Wallace and a group of friends are part of a movement to end the segregated prom. They have planned only one dance, called the "Integrated Prom," and invited everyone.

The idea hasn't gone over too well with some people. Some students ripped down signs for the Integrated Prom. Last year, when a biracial student tried to attend the whites only prom, police came to turn the student away.

The students committed to ending the segregated proms remain undeterred. They started a Facebook page and are running fundraisers to pay for the Integrated Prom.

"We realize were making history. Because this has never happened before. So for something like this to come about where we can make a difference or change, it's gonna be valuable to the community. It's really exciting," said Mareshia Rucker.

"I see black, white proms separate gone. I think from this point on they will have an integrated prom," added Toni Rucker.

The effort to end the segregated proms seems to be working. About 50 students have already bought tickets to the Integrated Prom.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Immigration Reform in the US: Taking racism out of the closet

Immigration Reform in the US: Taking racism out of the closet

It is with no surprise that immigration reform and it's meaning has polarised communities in the United States, confounded policy makers and become a political football for the left and right.

One of the main reasons why this issue has become so contentious is the racial and ethnic make-up of recent entrants to the country, both documented and undocumented. While race fuels the nativists concerns with border security and the undocumented overwhelming governmental services, the racial elements of those concerns are not being acknowledged. Rather, they are masked in polite, neutral terms around issues of concern for the law and the expense of governmental services and everyone goes along with the charade. Yet, for undocumented people, and even those with legal residency who are from countries from the global south, the reality of race is all too real in their daily lives and the way in which public policy is enforced. This is even truer for populations not normally thought of as being part of the immigration debate in the US-migrants who are phenotypically seen as "Black" within the US.

There are over 150 million people that are living either permanently or temporarily outside their countries of origin. The United States, according to the United States Census Bureau, has nearly 40 million foreign-born residents, which is roughly 13 percent of the total US population. Many immigrants to the US are migrant workers who are engaged or have been engaged in a paid activity in the US and members of their families. Forced to migrate for several reasons, including because of the devastation of neoliberal policies, thousands end up in detention facilities, some after having lived, worked and formed families in the country for several years. Despite being greatly outnumbered by non-African descendent immigrants, according to Centre for American Progress, Black immigrants are estimated to represent over 3 million of the estimated 40 million immigrants currently estimated to be in the United States.

Despite being outnumbered by non-black Latinos and Asian immigrants, in urban cities such as New York, Boston and Miami more than a quarter of their black population is foreign born, and they with their African American counterparts are the largest groups represented in the criminal justice system.

Xenophobia and Immigration

Very similar to their non-black counterparts, migration for black immigrants is usually a combination of issues, mostly due to economic and political forces in their countries of origin, many come seeking educational and employment opportunities, as well as there are some cases of individuals looking for safety. There is a large majority of black immigrants that come for family reunification and are granted residency based on the legalities of family reunification.

As an example we have, the situation facing Calvin James, which is not atypical. An excerpt from the Colorlines website illustrates his situation:

"Calvin James immigrated to Queens, New York, when he was 12 to follow his mother. At 17, James dropped out of high school. To make some money, James and his older brother tried fixing electronics, but that did not bring in enough cash. The brothers began selling marijuana in city parks. In 1992, James was arrested and spent 18 months in jail for possession and dealing of marijuana. James was released from prison in 1994 and brought to an immigration centre in Manhattan, where he was told that as an immigrant who had committed a crime, he was at risk of deportation. Several years ago order of deportation was issued for James without his being present and without legal counsel."

James story gets little or no coverage as well as stories like his in mainstream, independent or even in the alternative press. The fact is that in terms of a domestic discussion about immigration, black immigrants issues are also for the most part invisible in the so-called immigrant rights movement, despite the labelling of many as racial justice organisations. Some could say that black immigrant issues go into the fold of a raceless immigrant rights movement since, it could also be said that race and racism are embedded into the fabric of immigration, or we could assume that this is another example of how African descendants continue to be invisible from issues that are at a national scope level, and that their specific and particular realities need to be sacrificed for the benefit of the 'majority'.

Race as National Policy for Immigration Enforcement

From policies that target migrants based on who looks or seems to belong in society and who does not, despite the citizenship or residency status of the individual or groups, to the banning of ethnic studies at high schools and university centres by state legislations, are all manifestations of how immigration has become a discussion of who belongs vs. who does not belong in US society and, indeed, what constitutes a US national identity.

It is this debate that has created an environment in which repression based on race is tolerated and even supported by government programs. The acceptance of racial profiling is but one graphic example.

Racial profiling happens in the United States when there is a systemic targeting of people around searches, stops or investigation on the basis of that person's race, national origin or ethnicity. Some examples of documented racial profiling include the commonly used term 'driving while black', which is when police can use race to determine which drivers to stop for presumed traffic violations. But now with the focus on Latino immigration, driving "while brown" has become another marker for racial profiling.

Over the past decade, immigration enforcement measures by national, state and local governments have included blatant use of racial profiling with the result being an dramatic increase in criminal prosecutions, raids at worksites, checkpoints at roadblocks and military like incursions into communities identified as "immigrant. In the past four years, under the administration of President Barack Obama, the US has broken every record for deportations with an unprecedented 409,849 deportations occurring in 2012 alone. The Obama administration has also expanded partnerships that enable and condone the stopping of individuals by local police to check for immigration status and identification, such as Secure Communities, 287(g), and the Criminal Alien Program. And these programs are not cheap, the federal government spent close to $18 billion dollars on immigration enforcement last year alone. There are also programs such as Operation Streamline that target women, men and children and allow them to be detained in private detention centres for a year or more.

Xenophobia and racism are alive and well through the immigration system, and it does affect both blacks and non blacks, yet the impact that invisibility that black immigrants because of their race, puts them in a doubly precarious situation. While we very commonly see and hear about immigration being a very 'Latino' issue around immigration, including detention and deportation, we rarely see and hear the realities that black immigrants and their families face in a criminal justice system in where blacks historically have been and continue being disproportionately represented.

While xenophobia and racism are driving factors in the debates around immigration reform in the US, the racist implications of this conversation and the policies that emerge from it continue to be unacknowledged. What this means for both black immigrants who remain invisible in this debate and for other non-black immigrants, is that an immigration reform that does not take into account how race continues to limit and define the realities of non-whites, will be an immigration reform package that only solidifies the structural, social and economic domination of black and Latinos.

Janvieve Williams Comrie, is the current Executive Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Community Center. Her previous professional experience include the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights Central America Regional Office and the US Human Rights Network in the United States, where she worked directly on race and racial discrimination and human rights.

Follow her on Twitter: @jwpanama

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Adopted Ghanaian Girl May Get to Stay in U.S.

Adopted Ghanaian Girl May Get to Stay in U.S.

SEATTLE (CN) - U.S. immigration officials improperly ordered the deportation of a Ghanaian immigrant whose age of adoption here toed the cutoff, the 9th Circuit ruled.

Doris Amponsah Apori was born in Ghana in March 1984 and came to the United States as a visitor in 1999, when she was 15. Her aunt, a U.S. citizen, initiated adoption proceedings around that time, but the adoption was not granted until July 2000 when Apori was 16.
In May 2001, U.S. immigration officials refused to adjust Apori's status because she was adopted after the age of 16.
A Washington state court entered a nunc pro tunc order, which makes a ruling retroactive, about five months later to make Apori's adoption decree effective since Feb. 28, 2000, four days before her 16th birthday.
Apori then married a U.S. citizen in 2002, but the Department of Homeland Security initiated removal proceedings against her in 2004.
After her husband filed spousal visa petition on Apori's behalf the following year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services denied that petition in 2007, finding that Apori had entered into "a sham marriage to obtain immigration benefits."
In 2008, an immigration judge declined to rule on whether Apori was adopted before the age of 16, but concluded she did not show she had "been in the legal custody of, and has resided with, the adopting parent ... for at least two years," and could not meet the definition of "child."
The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) then affirmed, finding the visa petitions are "presumptively not grantable because an adoption decree entered nunc pro tunc after the age of 16 is not given retroactive effect under the immigration laws."
In a separate 2008 ruling, the BIA found affirmed that Apori's marriage was a sham.
A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit granted Apori relief Friday, taking issue with the BIA's blanket rule against recognizing state courts' nunc pro tunc adoption decrees.
"The BIA's interpretation is unreasonable because it gives little or no weight to the federal policy of keeping families together, fails to afford deference to valid state court judgments in an area of the law - domestic relations - that is primarily a matter of state concern and addresses the possibility of immigration fraud through a sweeping, blanket rule rather than considering the validity of nunc pro tunc adoption decrees on a case-by-case basis," Judge Raymond Fisher wrote for the panel.
Here the statutory language about adoption "could refer to the date the adoption is effective under state law, as Apori asserts, or to the date the adoption process is concluded, as the government maintains," the ruling states.
"The statute is therefore ambiguous with respect to the specific issue presented," Fisher added.
The panel also faulted the BIA for invalidating all nunc pro tunc adoption decrees.
"This rule presumes that every nunc pro tunc decree is spurious, thus sweeping aside meritorious, nonfraudulent, nunc pro tunc adoption decrees that recognize a bona fide family relationship that actually existed before the child turned 16," the ruling says.
As to the sham marriage finding, the panel found the BIA violated Apori's due process rights in not allowing her to present evidence in her defense.
The government could not bring up the marriage fraud question on appeal as an alternative ground for denying Apori's petition because it failed to raise issue in the original deportation proceedings.

Debut Novel Tackles African Immigrant Stereotypes | WBAA

Debut Novel Tackles African Immigrant Stereotypes

Taiye Selasi brings the African immigrant experience to readers in her debut novel, Ghana Must Go.

The novel begins with the Sai children preparing to travel from the United States to Ghana for the funeral of the family patriarch, Kweku Sai. Before they leave, Selasi gives readers a glimpse into the events that unfolded while they were growing up in the Boston suburb of Brookline, Mass.

Fola raised her four children while Kweku worked as a gifted surgeon. But their picture-perfect life comes tumbling down when Kweku leaves the family and Fola is faced with raising the children by herself on a florist's salary.

Depressed over the failure of her marriage and desperate to find a way to help her children succeed, Fola decides to send her twins to live with an uncle in Nigeria, something Selasi says is not uncommon for the immigrants she's observed.

"West African immigrants ... often send their children to family members and don't perceive it in the same way that, I think, perhaps, an American family would perceive that — as sending your kids away," Selasi tells host Michel Martin.

The move provides a cautionary tale, Selasi says. "One of the things I think I may be critiquing in that practice is something that is very fundamental to brown families," she says, "which is that I think we often have such a fundamental trust in our family members that we fail to see those family members who are, quite simply, dangerous."

The novel also tackles some of the stereotypes of African immigrants. In one scene, the eldest Sai son, Olu, goes to his girlfriend's father to talk about marriage. Like Olu, Dr. Wei is an immigrant to the U.S., but he is not enthusiastic about his daughter marrying an African man. He cites the family structure of many African families with an absent father and the typical news stories out of Africa — about rape, child soldiers and ethnic conflict. It prompts him to ask Olu: "How can you value another man's daughter, or son, when you don't even value your own?"

The question, though harsh, is one Selasi felt obligated to have the character ask. "While Dr. Wei is speaking in a hugely reductive, in a hugely generalizing, in a hugely stereotyping manner, he is also touching, in so doing, on some things that are true," she says.

Members of the Sai family find that their own truths are painful. When told, stories that have been kept secret for years from other family members reveal deep wounds.

Critics have pointed out that certain characters in the novel bear striking similarities to Selasi's own family. Selasi is the daughter of immigrant parents and the product of an Ivy League education. But she says that's pure coincidence: "I've told the anecdote — I was at a yoga retreat in Sweden when these characters sort of appeared to me. I think probably the longer, deeper, truer story is they'd been on their way for a very long time."

When she's pressed on whether her own experiences give her pause when tackling some of the stereotypes of Africans in her novel, she says, "As a novelist, I ask of myself only that I tell the truth and that I tell it beautifully."