Why Immigration Reform Needs to Remember the Invisible Immigrant
Immigration isn't just a Hispanic issue.
In 1972, my father a college-educated government official in Uganda, fled for his life after a military coup seized control of the government. He arrived in the U.S. penniless. My mother, also from Uganda, won a college scholarship abroad and arrived here with dreams of studying medicine.
The stories of their paths to citizenship are not unlike many black Africans who came to the U.S., but you don't hear their viewpoints often in the American immigration reform debate. This is a mistake; for although it is true that about 58 percent of the currently 11 million undocumented are Mexican (according to a report from the Pew Hispanic Research center), the fastest-growing group of immigrants is now Asian, not Hispanic. And people from Africa are also among the fastest-growing immigration groups, according to the Migrant Policy Institute.
A diversity of viewpoints on immigration would make congressional legislation more practical, and more likely to address the issues all immigrants face.
There are about 1.1 million black African immigrants here, comprising 3 percent of the total U.S. foreign-born population. Many Africans came to the U.S. as refugees, in situations similar to my father or through the diversity visa program, or through student visas like my mother or, for that matter, President Obama's father.
Depending on what part of the world you are from, the path to American citizenship can be slow, antiquated, or confusing. What it must be like to be one of the 4.7 million now waiting for a green card. Or how frustrating it was as a Haitian crossing the ocean in a life raft to seek asylum in the U.S. from Haiti's broken government in the 1990s only to be returned while your neighbors in Cuba seeking asylum in the U.S. from their government were always taken into the U.S..
Because so many immigrants are from Mexico, much of the immigration debate has become an argument over border security in such Southwest states as Texas and Arizona. But other issues are equally relevant, like expanding visas or how to in a post 9/11 world find a way to focus enforcement efforts on genuine threats and protect due process rights for all, and of course expediting a path for DREAMers just to name a few.
That's why it's very important to extend the fight for immigration to include dialogue as it affects everyone. The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has taken on immigration reform as it concerns Africans and Caribbean immigrants this year by addressing one of the key contentions of immigration bill: the diversity visas which have allowed a certain number of visas annually to countries with low immigration rates to the United States (traditionally benefiting a majority of Africans immigrants). The CBC wants to preserve the diversity visas.
The GOP argues that the diversity visas should be tossed in favor of visas focused only to highly skilled immigrants. However, black African immigrants are among those highly skilled immigrants according to the Migration Policy Institute report. They are well educated, with college completion rates that greatly exceed those for most other immigrant groups and US natives. And Black Africans come from countries with relatively high employment rates, some above 70 percent.
Currently, the immigration bill has components that move us forward. It has a path to citizenship for undocumenteds immigrants; and expedited path for undocumented high school graduates who came here as minors and farmworkers and steps to clear the 4.7 million of those still waiting for their green cards.
Yet we must not forget ALL the faces of the immigration discussion, people not unlike my parents, both of whom -- after decades here -- have made this place their home. My mother became a registered nurse with two bachelors and a masters and my father got his Ph.D teaching the sciences at a major University. In 2007, my Dad achieved full circle after he was awarded a U.S. Fulbright to research and teach the next generation of Ugandans for year .
Sometimes they are fleeing for their lives or come only with the shirts on their back and a dream to do better, but the same desire for freedom and opportunity that provoked the Pilgrims, spurred our nation's founders, or inspired generations of U.S. civil rights activists to fight, is in all of those immigrants today who seek to be here.