Recently, thousands of people gathered in Washington D.C. in front of the Capitol to demand comprehensive immigration reform which includes a pathway to citizenship and a cessation of the indiscriminate criminalization of undocumented immigrants. ColorOfChange.org preceded this action by launching a campaign last month aimed at widening the discourse around immigration reform, calling on the Senate’s “Gang of 8″ to end the criminalization of our communities and write immigration reform that protects the rights of all immigrants.
Too often, the scope is limited in a way that excludes the experiences of Black immigrants and Black Americans. Particularly in the wake of 9/11, conversations about much-needed immigration reform have been centered around massive detention and deportation operations which has encouraged ever-greater reliance on racial profiling, aggressive surveillance and over-policing of Black and brown communities. And while enforcement drives the political conversation around reform, inflammatory rhetoric regularly attempts to pit Black and immigrant communities against each other as if the terms “immigrant” or even “Latino” can never have a Black face.
As the U.S. Senate takes up an immigration bill today, Alden Nesbit, an immigrant, member of The Black Institute, and New York ColorOfChange would like to share his story as a way to debunk and retire old myths that pit Black and brown communities against each other, pushing decades of failed policy that harms us all. Alden’s story highlights the unique ways that Black immigrants have been marginalized and illustrates the ways in which prioritizing the issues of communities with comparatively little political power can help to raise the bar for immigration reform that protects the rights of all immigrants:
In 2001, my mother, along with hundreds of others, was recruited by the NYC Department of Education to teach in the lowest-achieving schools in New York City’s public school system. We came to the United States on an exchange visa. As a mother, her first concern was for her own three young children. The recruiters told her that she should bring her children along with her to the United States where they would have access to better medical and educational opportunities as she earned her green card. Believing these promises, she brought us with her to the United States.
However, twelve years later, my mother has yet to receive the green card she was promised after her H-1B visa—because of that broken promise, she has two undocumented children now. At age of 23, I am considered “too old” to benefit from my mother’s eventual change of status. Through no fault of our own, my sister and I are now separated from our family in Trinidad and haven’t been able to see our father in six years.
It has been a costly and stressful process. The amount spent on fees for every immigration application we were required to file, ranged from hundreds to thousands of dollars. My mom had to pay all of it out of her salary because she was the only one in our family allowed to work. Locked out of contributing to the household finances, we also had to rely on my mother to pay out of pocket for our college education—paying as much as three times as much in international student fees with no access to financial aid or scholarships. My older sister now holds a college degree in Culinary Arts and Business Management. However, she is still unable to work and provide for her young son because she remains undocumented.
I’ve been undocumented for two years now and this status change has put my entire life in jeopardy. In my own neighborhood, young Black men are routinely targeted by the NYPD’s controversial Stop and Frisk policing tactic. Traveling around my own city without identification and legal status, I risk detention and perhaps even deportation. I live in constant fear that I will be sent away from my family.
When I came to this country at ten years old, I expected to have an endless amount of opportunities and an opportunity to fulfill my dreams. My family and I did everything that was asked of us, broke no laws, but still find our dreams deferred by of broken promises.
My story is one of many of aged out children who end up like this due to a long permanent residency line. We need to create a clear pathway to citizenship for those on temporary visas so that no more children have to fear losing status as they grow older. I urge lawmakers to stop thinking of undocumented immigrants as criminals and instead recognize the potential in all of these young, aspiring citizens.
Rashad Robinson is the executive director of ColorOfChange.org. With more than 850,000 members, ColorOfChange.org is the nation’s largest online Black civil rights organization.
Alden Nesbitt is originally from Trinidad and Tobago and now living in Brooklyn, New York. He is a member of the Black Institute and ColorOfChange.org and co-chair of the International Youth Association. He recently received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
You can join ColorOfChange’s campaign for just immigration reform here: http://www.colorofchange.org/campaign/immigration-reform-protects-rights-all-immigrants/