Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A year in review: Anti-African racism and asylum seekers in Israel | +972 Magazine

A year in review: Anti-African racism and asylum seekers in Israel


While most Israelis were focused on the latest war on Gaza or the last election, verbal incitement, physical attacks, incarceration without trial and forced deportation of Africans continued unabated. A timeline of Israel's war on African asylum-seekers between November 2012 and May 2013.

By David Sheen

An African refugee holds a sign reading: "We are all refugees", during a demonstration in Tel Aviv against racism and the government's policy against African refugees, July 28, 2012. (photo: Activestills)

Last Thursday, May 23, 2013, marked exactly one year to the day when a thousand Jewish Israelis ran rampant through the streets of Tel Aviv, smashing and looting African-operated businesses and physically assaulting any dark-skinned person they came across. Sadly, the Israeli economic, political and religious establishment – who were in large measure responsible for the pogrom – did not respond by working to quash the racism, but rather ramped up their efforts to expel all non-Jewish African people from the country.

In previous articles and videos, I chronicled in detail the incitement that precipitated the anti-African race riot, and the persecution that came in its wake. The first details the month preceding the riot, the second describes the day of the riot, the third details the two months that followed, while the last one details the next three months, chronologically. This article is a timeline of Israel's war on African asylum seekers over the next seven months, between November 2012 and May 2013.

In November and December 2012, most Israelis were focused on the army's assault on Gaza, and in January 2013, they were mainly occupied with national elections. In February and March, the formation of a new government and a visit by U.S. President Obama commanded the news headlines, and in April and May, internal tensions over the respective rights and responsibilities of different groups of Jews were the most pressing issues discussed in the Israeli media.

During these seven months, the issue of what to do about non-Jewish African asylum seekers did not generate as much media attention as it did in the days that followed the May 23, 2012 pogrom. But throughout, the verbal incitement against Africans continued, the physical attacks on Africans continued, the incarceration without trial of Africans continued and the forced deportation of Africans continued. The new Netanyahu government continued the same racist policies as the old one.

State persecution of asylum seekers

Inspectors from Oz Unit (the immigration authority) arrest a mother moments after she brought her daughter to the kindergarten in "Hatikva" neighborhood in Tel Aviv. After her arrest they went to the kindergarten and arrested the girl as well. The mother and her child did not have the option to go and fetch their belongings or to say goodbye to friends and family. (photo by: Oren Ziv/

In the beginning of November, two Israeli NGOs released a report documenting the devastating conditions under which the Israeli government holds African asylum seekers against their will. At the Saharonim detention facility, where thousands of men, women and children are cramped into crowded conditions and exposed to the harsh desert, there is a shortage of medical care, there are no education or recreation facilities, and they are allowed no privacy or visitors.

For African asylum seekers who haven't been swept off the streets into incarceration, humiliation and exploitation are the norm. Public buildings refuse them admittance and force them to wait for service outside in the cold or in dismal underground parking lots. Many Africans are afraid to even jaywalk across the street, petrified of being picked up for even the slightest infraction and being sent to jail indefinitely without trial. Israeli citizens know full well that African asylum seekers' rights and freedoms are precarious and subject to summary revocation. As a result, Israelis often take advantage of Africans and extort them for large sums of money.

As most African asylum seekers are denied work permits, some choose to purchase forgeries, so they can eke out a living. If they are caught engaging in this deception, the government brands them a "threat to public safety" and incarcerates them indefinitely. In late December, the government announced that it would refrain from conducting arrests during the Christian holiday season, between Christmas and New Years. But it was just a ruse: when Africans emerged from their homes to do their holiday shopping, the authorities pounced on them and dragged them off to jail. Immigration police continued to ambush Africans outside the few health clinics that agree to serve asylum seekers.

On Christmas Eve itself, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that the construction of a border fence had been completed and that it was effectively preventing any more African asylum seekers from entering the country. He then said that the government would now focus on driving out all of the 60,000 or so African asylum seekers who are already in the country.

Netanyahu's Christmas Eve call to cleanse the country of non-Jewish Africans conclusively put to rest any hope that his government would stop hounding the asylum seekers once the border fence was complete. It also dispelled the argument that Israel's war on Africans was only the pet project of its then-Interior Minister Eli Yishai, and it validated my report published two weeks earlier by The Electronic Intifada, The Dirty Dozen, which identified Netanyahu as the country's top racist.

In February, United Nations officials in Israel accused Israel of secretly coercing asylum seekers languishing in its detention facilities to return to the country they fled from, Eritrea, which the UN called a "totalitarian state" that "tortures dissenters." Forcing them to choose between deportation or rotting in jail indefinitely, the editors of Haaretz called Israel's offer to Eritrean asylum seekers a "'voluntary' death penalty."

A week later, Haaretz revealed that the Israeli government had also been secretly sending asylum seekers back to Sudan. Confronted with the evidence, the government admitted to secretly smuggling out over 2,000 Sudanese asylum seekers. The act even contravened a ruling of Israel's Supreme Court, due to the danger the asylum seekers face upon their repatriation. The United Nations representative in Israel called this act "the gravest violation possible of the convention that Israel has signed – a crime never before committed."

Caught in the act, Israel's attorney-general ordered an end to the secret deportations of asylum seekers from Eritrea. But a month later, in April, the deputy attorney general clarified that the order does not apply to asylum seekers from Sudan. Another month later, in May, the attorney-general announced that he had instructed his office to formulate guidelines which would streamline the deportation of all African asylum seekers living in Israel.

Israel's election results, and their impact on the state's asylum regime

In the run-up to the Israeli elections, most major political parties campaigned on platforms which included advocating the expulsion of all African asylum seekers. The ruling Likud Beiteinu party publicly spoke of the war on Africans as one of the government's "accomplishments" and a good reason for it to be re-elected. The Strong Israel party continued its tradition of organizing anti-African rallies in the Tel Aviv neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of asylum seekers.

When the final tally was taken, the National Union party, as a faction of the Jewish Home party, received a strong showing and entered the government as a key coalition partner, with 12 seats. The two members of Knesset who left the National Union party to form Strong Israel were not reelected to parliament, but only just barely. From outside the Knesset, they continue to drum up anti-African sentiment.

Eli Yishai's Shas party won 11 seats in the new Knesset, but rival religious party Jewish Home forged an alliance with new secular Yesh Atid Party to keep Shas out of the coalition. Yishai grudgingly relinquished his hold on the all-important Interior Ministry, which wields immense power over the lives of African asylum seekers. But before he completed his tenure, he published an official government report on African asylum seekers to perpetuate his racist legacy.

Named for the Israeli academic who authored it, the Sofer Report is a blueprint for ethnically cleansing the country of Africans. It calls for toughening the rules of engagement on Israel's borders to send smugglers a message – a euphemism for possibly instructing soldiers to shoot asylum seekers, a position of some of Israel's most racist lawmakers. It labels Israeli citizens and others who advocate for the rights of African asylum seekers as "anti-Semitic" and possibly terrorists, and calls for them to be arrested.

The Sofer Report minces no words concerning the 60,000 African asylum seekers already in Israel. "There's no room for another ethno-national group in Israel," the report says, "they must be expelled." The report dispenses with the whitewashed term "detention" that the government once used to describe its prison for asylum seekers, and now shamelessly adopts the word "concentration" to describe the camp it decrees the Africans must be rounded into.

In the new Netanyahu government, Yishai was replaced at his post in the Interior Ministry by Likud-Beiteinu lawmaker Gideon Sa'ar. Upon taking office, Saar publicly confirmed that Israel's policy remains unchanged, that it was still committed to expelling all African asylum seekers from the country. Touring Tel Aviv neighborhoods with large African populations, he stopped to listen to veteran Israelis' concerns, but refused to speak to any Africans that approached him.

Meanwhile, Likud Beiteinu lawmaker Miri Regev, who riled up the May 23 pogromists by telling them that non-Jewish African asylum seekers are "a cancer in the body" of the nation – and later apologized after the violence, not to African asylum seekers, but to Israeli cancer victims, for comparing them to Africans – was appointed by Netanyahu to head the Knesset Interior Committee, the very body that decides the fate of those asylum seekers.

No salvation for African asylum seekers will come from Yesh Atid, the first-term secular party that surprised pundits by garnering the second-largest amount of seats in the governing coalition. The day after the May 23, 2012 anti-African pogrom, its leader Yair Lapid said that he supported deporting the whole lot. Since entering the Knesset, he personally torpedoed an attempt to freeze a cruel new law that would strip asylum seekers of their hard-earned wages, according to Haaretz reporter Jonathan Lis.

Popular racism in Israeli society

Wounded Eritrean man after knife attack in South Tel Aviv Internet cafe July 31, 2012 (OrenZiv/Activestills)

In March, an Israeli NGO released a report documenting racist statements by Members of Knesset and other public figures in Israel. The report found that espousing racism had become so commonplace in Israel that incidences of it had nearly doubled during the 2012 calendar year. As this toxic discourse trickles down to the Israeli public, the daily dehumanization of non-Jewish African asylum seekers passes almost without comment.

When a kindergarten for the children of veteran Israelis planned a one-day outing to visit another kindergarten for the children of African asylum seekers, Israeli parents flew into a rage. Israeli expecting mothers openly discussed strategies for avoiding having to share a delivery room with pregnant African women. The director of a Tel Aviv hospital complained to the Knesset that the African birthrate is too high.

Africans are so hated in Israel that the word "Sudanese" has turned into a general curse word that can be applied to anyone, as can be seen in this graffiti, photographed on the streets of Tel Aviv: "Oz [Israeli man's name], you [damned] Sudanese". Racism is so widespread that Israeli civics teachers are actually afraid to even bring up the topic of human rights in the classroom, fearful of the hateful responses they receive from students. My friend and colleague Lia Tarachansky documented this phenomenon in her recent video, Israel's New Generation of Racists.

During this time period, between November 2012 and May 2013, there was at least one march through the African neighborhoods of Tel Aviv calling for the immediate deportation of all non-Jewish African asylum seekers every single month. Racist assaults on Africans are a regular occurrence in Israel at all times, but they are especially prevalent right after these racist rallies.

Violent physical attacks on non-Jewish African asylum seekers are so socially acceptable in Israel that they can easily occur in the middle of a city street in broad daylight. On occasion, Jewish Africans – more commonly referred to as Ethiopian-Israelis – are misidentified as non-Jewish Africans and targeted for attack. Women and children get no reprieve from the onslaught: those who seek protection at a Tel Aviv shelter for African women and children are also assaulted, continually.

In its annual report issued at the end of 2012, an Israeli NGO noted that incidences of violence directed at African asylum seekers reached a record high in the last year. But the increasing attacks on African asylum seekers should come as no surprise, given the government's response to earlier incidences of racist violence. After an Jewish Israeli man firebombed eight African homes back in April, including one which housed a kindergarten for African children, the state let him go without any jail time, only requiring that he perform a few months of community service. Meanwhile, it deported the African man who ran the kindergarten.

Smear Attacks and demonization 

Israelis who advocate the immediate deportation of all African asylum seekers are able to generate the most amount of sympathy for their cause when reports emerge of a violent crime committed by an asylum seeker. Although the crime rate among asylum seekers remains lower than the crime rate for veteran Israelis, racists capitalize on any negative incident to tar all asylum seekers as violent criminals.

In the closing days of 2012, an African asylum seeker was accused of viciously raping an 80-year-old Israeli woman outside her home in Tel Aviv. The Strong Israel party quickly organized a rally demanding that all African asylum seekers be deported immediately. As my video of the event makes plain, on their way home from the rally, Strong Israel party activists accost every dark-skinned person they pass. The Africans hang their heads, powerless to reply.

Just two weeks later, another 80-year-old Israeli woman was raped, also in the Tel Aviv area. No public furor ensued and no angry marches were organized in response, because the alleged perpetrator was, like the victim, a Jewish Israeli. When Israel's rape culture is considered, exploiting the victims of sex attacks to advance the agenda of cleansing the country of non-Jewish Africans is revealed to be especially grotesque.

Consider what has occurred in the last seven months alone: The Jerusalem chief of police was indicted for sex crimes involving nine female officers. An Israeli mayor charged with "repeatedly raping a female subordinate over a lengthy period of time" was given no jail time, and instead invited to attend an event organized by the municipality marking "International Women's Day." And to Israel's "number one pimp," who trafficked and severely beat literally hundreds of women into sexual slavery, no punishment was meted out whatsoever.

Consider the numbers: In 2011, the last year for which there are statistics, 3,795 serious sexual crimes were committed in Israel. A study published in December found that a full 20 percent of Israeli men admit to having sexually assaulted at least one woman. Another study published in January found that more than 60 percent of Israeli men do not consider forcing a woman they are acquainted with to have sex against her will – to be rape.

Sexual violence is a huge, huge problem in Israel and anyone who has committed a sex crime – white or black, Israeli or otherwise – must face justice. But any calls to deport or otherwise punish non-Jewish African asylum seekers based on the actions of criminals who share their ethnicity are the very definition of racial discrimination. This would be plainly understood as such if the same accusations were made against Jewish people living anywhere else in the world.

As I have previously documented, one of the main reasons for so much of the Israeli hatred for Africans is the widespread opposition to consensual inter-racial romantic relationships between Israelis and Africans. In March, two leading Israeli rabbis decreed that under Jewish law, it is even permissible to break the Sabbath - number four of the Ten Commandments – when trying to break up mixed couples. In April, an Israeli NGO released a report comparing Israeli anti-miscegenation sentiment to the public demand for racial purity in Nazi Germany.

Legal reprieve for asylum seekers

There have been small legal victories for African asylum seekers in the Israeli court system in recent months, achieved through the hard work of committed anti-racism activists. Though these court victories do not even come close to making up for all of the suffering Israel continues to heap on non-Jewish African asylum seekers, they do deserve mentioning.

In April, Israel's High Court overturned a lower court ruling that torture suffered by asylum seekers could not qualify as a humanitarian reason justifying their release from detention. In May, a district court judge ruled that it is inhumane to hold children in a detention center indefinitely, and as a result, a handful of children and their mothers were released from holding. Also in May, Israel's High Court overturned a lower court ruling that increased criminal punishments meted out to African asylum seekers solely because they are African asylum seekers.

Most significantly, in March, Israel's High Court ordered the government to justify its draconian Law for the Prevention of Infiltration, amended in January 2012. The law has provided the legal basis for Israel's incarceration without trial of thousands of African asylum seekers. In an extraordinary move, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees applied to the court and called upon it to render the law unconstitutional. The state has yet to reply.

A Sudanese woman shows her UNHCR Refugee card from Egypt during a refugee protest in front of the government's offices in center Tel Aviv October 14, 2012. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills)

On the Winter Solstice of 2012, the ruling party in South Africa, the African National Congress, voted to boycott, divest from, and slap sanctions on Israel. The text adopted by the ANC cites Israel's treatment of Palestinians as the impetus for the resolution, but another resolution passed at the same conference specifically states: "The ANC abhors the recent Israeli state-sponsored xenophobic attacks and deportation of Africans and requests that this matter should be escalated to the African Union."

In April, even the U.S. State Department issued a public criticism of the Israeli government's treatment of non-Jewish African asylum seekers. Mondoweiss's Annie Robbins notes that the State Department's condemnation seems to mirror the language of the report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on non-Jewish African asylum seekers, which I co-authored in January 2012.

Disinformation and propaganda campaigns

As word began to spread of its abominable treatment of African asylum seekers, Israel's propaganda machine kicked in. Well-oiled from decades of distributing disinformation about Palestinians, Israel's hasbara agents set themselves to the task of refurbishing Israel's international image. Not only did they deny that the government's treatment of Africa asylum seekers was racist; they actually had the audacity to claim that it was better than any other country in the world.

In November, the spokesperson of the Israeli embassy to the United States took to the pages of The Washington Post to defend the government's record on African asylum seekers. Amazingly, Aaron Sagui's letter to the editor whitewashing Israel's attacks on Africans contains nearly as many lies as it does sentences. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Sagui has the chutzpah to claim that Israel provides "full health services and free education" for the asylum seekers, and that it "not only meets UN requisites… but exceeds them."

The campaign to cover up Israel's persecution of African asylum seekers is not only fought by the Israeli government itself. The cause is also eagerly taken up by Zionist celebrities, such as British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who had the gall to claim in February that Israel "leads the world" in accepting asylum seekers. In December, a group of Zionist intellectuals went one step further, demanding in a public petition that the rest of the world shoulder responsibility for Israel's non-Jewish African asylum seekers and take them in.

At the same time, Israel sought to prevent the publication of any more factual information about African asylum seekers that might portray them in a positive light. In January, the Knesset Research and Information Center fired Dr. Gilad Natan, who at the request of Members of Knesset, had compiled multiple reports documenting crime rates among asylum seekers and a report comparing Israel's treatment of asylum seekers to their treatment in other countries.

Natan cited official police statistics that showed asylum seekers commit far fewer crimes than native Israelis, not more. His final report found that in other countries, the vast majority of Sudanese and Eritreans are granted refugee status. It found that the number of asylum seekers in Israel is small compared to those other countries, even in proportion to Israel's small population. And it found that Israel's financial contribution to refugee settlement is infinitesimal compared to other developed nations.

Border police patrolling south Tel Aviv, Israel. (photo: Activestills)

These had become inconvenient truths for the Israeli government, which had come under increasing pressure to justify its cruel policies. After he was axed, Natan's official report comparing and contrasting the treatment of asylum seekers in different countries was deleted from the Knesset website altogether, as though it never existed. Out of sight, out of mind – see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

So while the truth is out of sight and mind, it remains evil, to the very core. Since Israel took over responsibility for reviewing refugee status requests from UNHCR, out of the 60,000 non-Jewish African asylum seekers living in Israel, Israel has approved only one single solitary application. And that one African woman that the State of Israel, in all of its magnanimity, has deigned to bequeath refugee status upon - is an albino. Of the 1,400-plus refugee status requests made by asylum seekers held in Israeli detention centers, the state has not even processed even a single one.

Diaspora Jewry's hypocritical silence

During the 12 months from June 2012 to May 2013, not one single mainstream American Jewish organization publicly criticized Israel's war on African asylum seekers. It wasn't that they refrained from criticizing Israel altogether, for they did not shy away from doing so over issues they felt strongly about. For example, in May, U.S. Jewish leaders publicly called upon the Israeli government to cancel a proposed tourist tax. It's that they just don't care about Israel's African asylum seekers.

Just before Passover, all major American Jewish organizations signed off on a letter urging President Obama and Congress to make it easier for asylum-seekers and undocumented migrants to become U.S. citizens. "American Jews know too well the impact of restrictive immigration policies, and we have seen how… the failure of national leaders to fix the broken immigration system has fueled racist, nativist, and extremist groups who blame immigrants for our country's problems," they wrote.

If American Jews know too well the impact of restrictive immigration policies, it is because they remember that the United States and most other Western nations refused to accept Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi Holocaust. And yet, as two Israeli immigration lawyers point out in +972 Magazine, those same Jewish refugees would be sent back to the crematoria today if they were judged by Israel's racist standards for accepting African asylum seekers.

A tiny minority of Jewish anti-racism activists have issued passionate appeals to Jews around the world, pleading with them to urge Israel to accept its African asylum seekers. They couch their calls for mercy in the softest language possible, fearful of offending community leaders, who have near-zero tolerance for any criticism of Israel's actions, no matter how immoral. And yet their cries fall on deaf ears. A whole year after Israel's anti-African pogrom, big-box American Jewry maintains total silence over Israel's persecution of African asylum seekers.

And so the persecution continues unabated.

David Sheen is a writer and filmmaker born in Canada and based in Israel. His website is and he tweets at @davidsheen.

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U.S. Reforms Could Slash African Immigration Levels

U.S. Reforms Could Slash African Immigration Levels

Tuesday, 07 May 2013 09:51 Carey L. Biron 1 Comments
WASHINGTON, May 06 (IPS)  - Advocates for the African diaspora in the United States have stepped up a campaign to urge the U.S. Congress not to end a longstanding visa programme aimed at boosting immigration from "underrepresented countries".The programme, known as the diversity visa lottery, has in recent years been sharply tilted towards African immigration. Since 2008, immigrants from African countries have made up nearly half of the 55,000 randomly awarded U.S. work visas annually awarded.

Yet under a landmark bipartisan proposal to overhaul the U.S. immigration system, released in mid-April and currently being debated in the U.S. Senate, the so-called DV lottery would be eliminated (see Section 2303 of the draft bill). Instead, it would be replaced with "merit-based" visas aimed at opening U.S doors to higher-skilled workers, particularly in the science, technology and engineering fields.

If passed, the provisions on the DV lottery would take effect in October 2014.

"We are concerned that the Senate's plan to eliminate the DV lottery will stem the future flow of immigration from African countries and negatively impact the future make-up of America," the Cameroon American Council (CAC), a Washington-based advocacy group, said Monday in a statement.

"The DV lottery is built upon foundational, democratic and egalitarian principles that strengthen America. These principles advance equal opportunity, attracts entrepreneurs and visionaries who contribute immensely to the American small business sector, and improves the quality of our social, economic, political and cultural life."

The DV programme was created in 1990 with the aim of rectifying a bias within U.S. immigration laws against certain countries. The lottery is open to citizens of countries where immigration to the United States totalled less than 50,000 over the preceding half-decade, and it closes again once those levels hit a certain level.

As such, while high-immigration countries such as Mexico, the Philippines or China have never been allowed to enter the DV lottery, the programme has allowed in a broad spectrum of immigrants from smaller or lesser-represented countries. The representation from Africa has been particularly significant.

Since 2010, for instance, just three percent of Asians became U.S. permanent residents through the DV lottery, while more than 20 percent of Africans did so. The lottery thus became the third most important avenue to U.S. residency for Africans, behind asylum claims and family reunification.

Indeed, family reunification made up nearly half of U.S. residency routes for Africans in the past three years, yet this route too is not included in the current Senate bill. Instead, the current bill focuses on bringing in higher-skilled workers.

"Lawmakers say the new proposal won't put various communities at a disadvantage, because new visas will be made for them – but they've left Africans out," Yves Bouele, an advocate with the Cameroon American Council, told IPS.

"They say everybody is going to be well served with these new provisions, and that might be true, but that definitely doesn't look to be the case for Africans. If the DV lottery is eliminated, we need to ensure that new provisions will continue to serve these African communities, which are really underserved."

Conservative target

"The DV lottery has had the effect of lifting families out of poverty; provided opportunities to the affected families; and provided a talent pool for the U.S. economy," the CAC suggests. "It has been a very successful foreign policy, civil rights achievement and national security tool."

Such claims notwithstanding, Republican members of Congress have been aiming at dismantling the diversity visa programme for years. Indeed, Bouele says that the DV lottery has become a make-or-break issue for the Senate's proposal.

"Basically, the DV lottery had to go in order to make sure the Republicans supported the bill," he notes.

"And now people worry that if we insist on the lottery the Republicans will back out. Why exactly they want to take this out so bad, I'm not sure. We have a lot of data to prove how good the African immigrant population has been for the United States."

Most recently, the Republican-held House of Representatives passed a bill in November that would have increased the number of high-skilled immigrant visas while eliminating the DV lottery – exactly as the new Senate proposal would do.

At the time, President Barack Obama threatened to veto the bill, calling it a "narrowly tailored proposal". While the president has not discussed the DV lottery since the Senate unveiled the new proposal, other Congressional democrats have expressed their concerns.

"I am truly disappointed that the bipartisan proposal eliminates the Diversity Visa Program that provides for the future flow of diverse immigrant groups from underrepresented countries to have a real chance of obtaining the American Dream," Yvette Clarke, a member of both the House of Representatives and the Congressional Black Caucus, said in a statement.

"Although assurances have been made that the new 'Merit Based Point System' would account for diversity, my concern is that it isn't robust or sustainable enough to adequately protect the future flow of racially and socioeconomically diverse immigrant populations."

Diversity compromise

Still, the new immigration reform proposal is a massive piece of legislation, and if it were to pass it would be the largest such overhaul since the mid-1980s. Further, while the bill is coming under increased fire from conservatives, it has received notably strong bipartisan support from both lawmakers and the U.S. public.

Given the polarised and politicised nature of immigration policy in the United States, the Senate's bill has been widely referred to as strong though compromise legislation. In this context, many appear willing to offer concessions in order to get the legislation through to become law.

"This isn't one of our favourite elements of the new proposal, as we think there's real value in the diversity visa system – it has brought in people who otherwise wouldn't have been able to access the U.S.," Crystal Williams, the executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told IPS.

"But taken holistically, the number of things that the bill does that are of great benefit has to be weighed against the sacrifice of the DV lottery. Right now, we're willing to accept that trade-off, although reluctantly."

Further, Williams notes that some of the context around the discussion of diversity in the United States has evolved over the past two decades.

"One of the reasons that this is a politically viable bill is because diversity has become a driving factor right now," she says. "Today, there is a recognition that any party that wants to stay politically viable has to understand that diversity."

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The health of the African and Caribbean immigrant community

The health of the African and Caribbean immigrant community

Today we have another important and interesting contribution to our ongoing series on race and health in Philadelphia. Oni Richards-Waritay, executive director of the African Family Health Organization (AFAHO) discusses how cultural and linguistic barriers can lead to poor health outcomes.

-- Michael Yudell

Research indicates that the health of immigrants to the United States worsens the longer they are here. For example, many members of Philadelphia's African and Caribbean immigrant and refugee community are healthier than other residents upon arrival in the U.S. But their health deteriorates the longer they stay here.

How is this possible in a nation that is supposed to have the best healthcare in the world?

Part of the answer is that as newcomers assimilate, they adopt the unhealthy dietary and physical activity habits of longtime residents. The other part is that quality healthcare is not accessible to everyone, particularly those who are low-income, Limited English Proficient, have no health insurance and live in "health deserts." This inevitably leads to many being forced to use emergency rooms as a source of primary care; a lose-lose situation for both the patient and the over burdened health system.

The Mayor's Commission on African and Caribbean Immigrant Affairs reports that there are nearly 60,000 African and Caribbean immigrants and refugees in the city. At the African Family Health Organization, which provides services to nearly 900 people a year from 30 countries, we constantly witness the challenges that this population faces in accessing quality health and human services.

Barriers to healthcare as well as low-quality healthcare contribute to health disparities and poor health outcomes in immigrant and refugee communities. Though access to Western medicine was limited for some in their home countries, they had access to fresh foods; opportunities for frequent outdoor activities; and traditional medicines, which focused on prevention. Prevention plays a critical role in improving health, yet it is rarely the focus of medical care in the American system, partly due to the lack of adequate time that health providers have available to spend with each patient.

Doctor office visits are sometimes compared to "speed dating," even for those immigrants and refugees who have a good grasp of the English language, health insurance, and are able to successfully navigate the often complex healthcare system. Many tell us that, despite going to the same provider for a year or more, they have yet to develop a rapport that encourages meaningful dialogue due to the rushed and impersonal nature of time spent with their doctors. And now that everything is online, health providers seem to spend more time looking at their computers, as they quickly type in answers to their patients' questions, than with the people sitting across from them. This can be intimidating and isolating for anybody; for an immigrant or refugee, it might justify claims that providers now are more concerned with curing disease using medication rather than healing and preventing it in the first place.

Imagine for a moment that you are not fluent in English; already have some distrust of the health system; have no health insurance; are not culturally familiar with Western medicine, and not very literate. What is the likelihood that your experience with a medical provider will be positive and effective? For many, the chances are slim. That's why one of the services our organization offers is a medical escort to help our clients get through some of their language, culture, and navigation barriers – a difficult task to accomplish when using only a telephone interpreter.

Providers often don't get that interpretation is not just linguistic, it is also cultural. When patients shake their head to indicate "yes," for example, that does not necessarily mean that they understand what's being said; it might simply mean that they're doing what they think they should be doing. Many immigrants and refugees revere medical providers and see them as "all knowing." As a result, they might blindly follow instructions without raising the kind of questions that educated people who grew up here would instinctively ask.

And when providers do not truly understand their patients, they miss critical opportunities to intervene before a serious condition develops. A typical example is the prevalence of Hepatitis B in African immigrant communities. A provider who is unfamiliar with this pattern might not screen for the virus, which can eventually lead to liver cancer if left untreated. And using body-mass index (BMI) to discuss obesity in African or Caribbean women is often ineffective; BMI at this point may be a household term in the United States but it is an alien concept in many parts of the world, where body types also may not match what the tool is intended to measure to identify unhealthy proportions.

Health care in the U.S. can be among the best in the world, and nowhere more so than in Philadelphia, with its concentration of top academic medical centers. But it often serves immigrants and refugees poorly, just at the time when their adoption of an unhealthy Western lifestyle is worsening their health. It is imperative that the health-care system be changed to ensure quality care for all, regardless of insurance, education, ethnicity or linguistic capabilities. The Brookings Institution reports that there are nearly 500,000 foreign-born residents in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. As the region continues to become more diverse, it is important that providers understand the needs of the communities they serve -- and make a concerted effort to become culturally competent and sensitive if reducing health disparities and improving health outcomes is their goal.

Read more about The Public's Health.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Post-Racial: Darker Skin On White People Leads To Positive Bias For Darker Skin

Post-Racial: Darker Skin On White People Leads To Positive Bias For Darker Skin

The Rubber Hand illusion never fails to teach us new things - not just about neuroscience, but also about culture.

If you are not familiar with the Rubber Hand illusion, it shows that the combination of seeing a touch on a rubber hand and feeing a touch on your own creates the illusion that the fake hand is now part of your body. In a new paper, scholars did that; they asked participants to look at a fake hand being touched, while at the same time the experimenter touched the participants' own hand, hidden out of view.

But there was a twist. The paper authors were testing whether people can experience a hand of a different skin color and whether this would change possible racial biases. Well, obviously color shouldn't matter if rubber is convincing but the goal was to see if a rubber hand of a different color caused people to be less biased.

Maybe it does. Using Caucasian participants, the scientists tested their implicit attitudes towards people with dark skin before using a dark-skinned rubber hand to make them feel as if this was their own hand. They then tested their racial attitudes again after the experiment. They found that when white Caucasians are under the illusion that they have dark skin, their racial bias changes - in a positive way. Yes, they were all a little racist, even if they had never done anything racist. That is the beauty of things like the Implicit Association Test. 100% of people will be what psychologists need them to be in order for them to show people how they can be less of it.

The results showed that the more intense the participants' illusion of owning the dark-skinned rubber hand, the more positive their racial attitudes became. When people got darker skin, they became more positive about people with darker skin. We need to poll the folks at TMZ and find out how many of these tests the Kardashian family took. 

Fig. 1. (A) Experimental set-up of the rubber hand illusion. The participant observed a rubber hand being touched with a paintbrush, whilst their own hand was stimulated in the same manner. (B) The ownership questionnaire, measuring illusory ownership over the rubber hand. Agreement was rated on a 7-point Likert scale. Credit and link: Cognition

"This study has important implications for changing and reducing negative racial attitudes," said researcher Lara Maister from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway University. "It comes down to a perceived similarity between white and dark skin. The illusion creates an overlap, which in turn helps to reduce negative attitudes because participants see less difference between themselves and those with dark skin." 

Dr. Manos Tsakiris, Reader in Neuropsychology at Royal Holloway and who led the research and had a similar paper ( on the topic last year, said, "Often formed at an early age, negative racial attitudes are thought to remain relatively stable throughout adulthood. Our results show that we can positively alter them by understanding how the brain is processing sensory information from our bodies and that of others. It will be interesting to replicate the effect with different social groups and see if we can generalise these findings outside of a laboratory setting." 

Citation: Lara Maister, Natalie Sebanz, G√ľnther Knoblich, Manos Tsakiris, 'Experiencing ownership over a dark-skinned body reduces implicit racial bias', Cognition, Volume 128, Issue 2, August 2013, Pages 170-178