Immigration “reform” is no stranger to Anti-blackness. The purpose of this article (and ones in the immediate future) is to refine a position that does not get as much play as it ought to – the motif of anti-blackness as it applies to immigration policy discussions. In “On Reifying Anti-Blackness Through So-called Immigration “Reform”” – possibly the best exchange I’ve seen -, Rozalinda Borcia states,
I think there are many reasons why “immigration”has become a “Latino” issue in the US — partially due to the security apparatus itself, the disproportionate focus on enforcement against Central and South American migrants, especially Mexican migrants, who seem to be the primary targets for detention and capture. But this is also because of the close links between Spanish Language media, NGO’s and the Hispanic Caucus of the Democratic Party , and the political value of the “Latino vote.” There are many ways that the racialization of people who are politically “red-brown” is also specifically “non-black” or even “anti-black”, and in this the manistream [immigration] movement is a principal player. There are many ways that the hypervisibility of some bodies render others invisible in the debate and work to reinforce existing structural oppressions.
Being someone who is both black and an undocumented immigrant, examining the interplay between the two identities has been a passion of mine, if not something I cannot avoid. And as someone who is a writer, an activist, and a scholar, I want to take every opportunity to revise my position, which I will do. The African immigrants’ voice is silenced because it is not politically advantageous to have its voice heard.What is politically advantageous is to split constituencies and pit them against each other. What exists is “hypervisibility through attrition”; the hyper-visibility of the Latino face in immigration reform comes at the expense of other racial identities. This is a sentiment Mariame Kaba eloquently holds.
In the National Journal article “How Democrats Could Blow Immigration“, the hot-button issue is the replacement of the Diversity Visa program, which aims to bring immigrants from underrepresented nations. Just under half of these visas go to African immigrants, who average the highest educational attainment of any population group in the country; this includes whites and Asians. United States Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the leading Democrat in the “Gang of Eight” senators responsible for developing the Senate’s immigration bill, is a proponent of replacing the Diversity Visa (DV) system – which I’ve written about before – with a merit-based system. What the merit-based system is exactly is unclear, but what is clear (and what I consider to be anti-black) is the fact that not only will the immigration bill lead to a loss of African and Caribbean immigrant visas in the short term, but Sen. Schumer has set aside 10,500 visas for Irish immigrants under this new system. The Congressional Black Caucus, a staunch supporter of retaining the DV program, is also getting pressure from the African American Leadership Council to oppose any immigration bill. This includes pressure on Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), co-chairperson of the CBC’s immigration task force. This opposition bases its argument on the idea that unauthorized immigration will worsen the conditions of the worst off Black workers, a contestable claim.
Another example of dividing communities is present in this New York Times article, which pits Mexican and other Central American workers against Black workers in a way that is both anti-Latino and anti-Black. Sherry Tomason, a Black worker who worked in Georgia’s Vidalia onion farms for seven years before quitting, lamented, that Mexican workers are valued “because they are scared and they will do anything they tell them to.” John Rhymes, who worked at the farms for a week before being – in his opinion, unfairly – fired, said, “We are not going to run all the time…We are not Mexicans.” Consider this quote of a similar sentiment by John Schwalls, director of operations at Southern Valley Farms:
“When Jose gets on the bus to come here from Mexico he is committed to the work,” he said. “It’s like going into the military. He leaves his family at home. The work is hard, but he’s ready. A domestic wants to know: What’s the pay? What are the conditions? In these communities, I am sorry to say, there are no fathers at home, no role models for hard work. They want rewards without input.”
This quote presents domestic (read: poor, black) workers as entitled in the job market and absent at home. Further, Schwalls presents the Latino worker as some sort of “model laborer”: he asks no questions; he just comes in to work as long as possible and never complains about such “unimportant” things as wages and working conditions. This “model laborer” caricature obscures the deeply exploitative nature of agribusiness, and acts as a foil through which the black person is seen as entitled, lazy, and absent. This “caricature” also diverts energy away from the idea that Latino immigrants work these jobs not as some testament to their work ethic, but it is because they have few opportunities outside of this exploitative industry while being treated like animals within it. The criminalization of immigration status prevents exploited peoples from speaking up about said oppression, decreasing the conditions of everyone overall.
In sum, the concept of anti-blackness as it applies to the immigrant experience needs to be discussed.
Image Credit: Joel Sati