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Excerpted from: Breanne J. Palmer, The Crossroads: Being Black, Immigrant, and Undocumented in the Era of #Blacklivesmatter, 9 Georgetown Journal of Law & Modern Critical Race Perspectives 99 (Spring, 2017) (Note) (133 Footnotes) (Full Document)


Breanne J PalmerThis paper discusses the detrimental, intersectional effects of immigration law and criminal law on Black immigrants, both with and without documentation. Anti-Black racism, deeply embedded in America's criminal law system, funnels Black immigrants into the criminal justice system, and subsequently into removal or other punitive immigration proceedings. Black immigrants have long been missing, or purposely erased, from the national immigration narrative. Only a handful of organizations advocate for their particularized needs. As Black immigrant activism increases in visibility, opportunities for a new form of coalition building--known as “transformational solidarity”--must be adopted in order to protect and advocate for Black immigrants.

Part One presents the increasing presence of Black immigrants in the U.S., and discusses the ways in which racialized policing and application of criminal laws subject Black immigrants to some of the same perils Black Americans face when confronted by the criminal justice system. Yet, for Black immigrants, this confrontation can lead to removal or other dire immigration consequences. Part One lays out statistics about Black immigrants, including their higher rates of detention and removal as compared to other immigrant groups. Part Two proposes that the Black immigrant population's invisibility, and resulting vulnerability, requires targeted activism from both immigration reform and migrant rights advocates and criminal justice reform advocates. Part Two also highlights two such organizations advocating for Black immigrants: the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (“BAJI”) and the UndocuBlack Network (“UndocuBlack”) and shows how their work engages in transformational solidarity. Part Three proposes a forward-looking path for Black advocates, focusing on BAJI's theory of “transformational solidarity:” migrant rights activists and activists in the Movement for Black Lives must collaborate in order to ensure Black immigrants and undocumented Black people are part of the larger narrative and being advocated for. This collaboration will create a fuller, contextualized, and better-informed picture of what criminal and immigration law reform can--and should--look like. This collaboration will add even more texture to the still-burgeoning, and increasingly intersectional, Movement for Black Lives.

During the weekend of April 8 to 10, 2016, the Black Immigration Network (“BIN”) hosted its biennial Kinship Assembly, Black Love Beyond Borders, in Los Angeles, California. The BIN is an informal subsidiary of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. The Kinship Assembly coincided with BAJI's ten-year founding anniversary. Since 2008, BIN has coordinated biennial Kinship Assemblies to bring together activists, leaders, and participants in African Diaspora immigration organizing. The author attended the 2016 Kinship Assembly to better inform this paper, and findings from the Assembly are integrated into each Part.

. . .

Black immigrants live in the crosshairs of American-bred anti-Black racism and anti-immigrant sentiments. Despite an ever-increasing statistical presence in the United States, Black immigrants are excluded from the national discussion about immigration reform, which has falsely been painted as a Latinx-only issue, erasing Black immigrants from narratives about undocumented immigrants. Activists must ensure that this “invisible” population's specific vulnerabilities--being swept into the criminal justice system via anti-Black racism and then subjected to punitive immigration consequences--are taken into account.

BAJI, the only national immigration rights organization focused on Black immigrant needs, is engaging in the work of raising visibility for Black immigrants along with organizations like the UndocuBlack Network. BAJI presents a way forward through its organizing theory of transformational solidarity. Through the practice of transformational solidarity, organizers within the Movement for Black Lives, the migrant rights movement, and the burgeoning Black immigrant rights movement can halt the underserving of Black immigrant and undocumented peoples by legislators and mainstream immigration activists alike. Once migrant rights are viewed through a racial justice lens that takes the particular plight of Black immigrants into account, we can all “get free.”

J.D. 2016, Georgetown University Law Center. © 2016, Breanne Palmer.