by Seydi Sarr
When the Dream Act, to provide legal status to millions of undocumented youth, was reintroduced in 2009, Congress staunchly refused to consider, review, hear, or act on behalf of millions of children and youth. Born outside of the United States, these minors were brought to this country at a tender age; raised in our neighborhoods; socialized in our communities and educated in our schools. Recipients of DACA — the DACAmented — embody all of America’s values.
Because the Dream Act was repeatedly defeated in Congress, President Obama issued an executive order establishing DACA in 2012. Millions of advocates for expanding immigration laws celebrated the establishment of DACA; and since then, 800,000 undocumented youth bravely registered for it. As part of the process, DACA applicants also relinquished a significant amount of personal information about themselves and their family members to satisfy all of the government’s security concerns. Subsequently, they focused on seizing the opportunity to transform their lives, pursue higher education, get a driver’s permit, earn a living, pay their taxes, invest, and proudly experience some of their parents’ American dreams.
In all honesty, DACA was a contingently narrow path because it only provided temporary — not permanent — legal status. After fulfilling its requirements and paying its costs, DACA recipients were still subjected to prosecutorial discretions. DACA’s greatest liability came on September 5, 2017, with the announcement of its impending dissolution by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Let’s face it. DACA’s cancellation and its consequences challenge all societal norms of equity, justice, compassion and common sense.
Beyond the upheaval of our democratic values arises the question, “who has the right to migrate?” Indeed, a deeper dive into the question’s premise reveals one of those dirty secrets families tend to bury and pass on quietly.
For America today, structural racism and white privilege once again cross paths. Our society absolutely fails to notice the movement of its white-looking citizens who seldom need a visa to enter any territories. So therefore, from Dakar to Cape Coast, the Arabian desert to the bottom of the Himalayas, you will find white Americans unbothered in their pursuit of happiness. On the other hand, the movement of people of color is instantly perceived as a threat in terms of numbers to be regulated, crimes to be punished and walls to be built.
History teaches us that when white folks seize other peoples’ land, oppress and economically subdue them, they are hailed as conquerors bringing civilization, progress and development. Yet, when immigrants, particularly Black and Brown people, are forcibly displaced by the destruction of their natural habitat (Black Bottom) and economy (unequitable trade deals), they become a problem to be contained in order to accommodate and preserve the comfort of whiteness. Thus, the common injunction “go home” or “this is America.”
Indeed, this is America: the land where thousands of people like me (Black immigrants) hide in plain sight. While attempting to “make America great,” the Trump administration has amplified the racial disparity among immigrants. Fearing police brutality because of our Blackness, we are also battling mass deportation, police brutality and mass incarceration because of our Blackness. Black immigrants were already over-criminalized. According to the State of Black Immigrants report by the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and New York University School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic,
• More than one out of every five non-citizens facing deportation on criminal grounds before the Executive Office for Immigration Review is Black.
• Black immigrants are more likely to be detained for criminal convictions than the immigrant population overall.
• Black immigrants in removal proceedings for a criminal conviction often have lived in the U.S. for a long time and established strong community ties; many are apprehended and placed in deportation proceedings long after the triggering criminal conviction occurred.
• Black immigrants are much more likely than nationals from other regions to be deported due to a criminal conviction.
Now they face mass deportation exemplified by the expulsion of 130 Senegalese nationals in March 2017.[2,3]
If you were an African immigrant from Somalia, Sudan and Libya, in January 2017, you were simply banned from entering the United States because you were Muslim.
We must begin to see this situation in all lights and from all perspectives. As I wrote this article, my friend Christine from the Michigan United Coalition was arrested for civil disobedience; and Adonis, a Latinx organizer, started his hunger strike as his DACA will expire in 2019 and felt that this was his last option. As I reflected on this and the plight of countless Black immigrants, whose stories will go untold, I came to a startling, yet unsurprising conclusion. Humanity in this country seems to only apply to white folks. Millions of immigrants face a new reality: in America, the color of HUMANITY is WHITE.
Fatou-Seydi Sarr or Seydi Sarr is a community organizer and leader in Detroit’s West African community and founder/Executive Director of the African Bureau for Immigration and Social Affairs (ABISA). She has a Bachelor of Social Work from Wayne State University and a Master of Art in Social Justice from Marygrove College. Ms. Sarr is a Michigan court interpreter, serves on the Board of Michigan United and teaches West African dance.