Do Black Lives Matter in the immigrant rights movement?

In the US, Black migrants are stuck in an ironic position of simultaneous hyper visibility and invisibility.

Haiti Migrant protest AP
Protesters march to President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort Nov. 21, 2017, to protest Department of Homeland Security's decision to suspend TPS status for Haitians [Lynne Sladky/AP]

The Trump administration’s decision to rescind DACA, the Obama-era legislation that shielded young immigrants from deportation and gave them work permits, met a fierce wave of protests across the United States.

The immigrant rights movement came out in full defence of Dreamers, the group of almost 800,000 DACA beneficiaries. Activists from as far west as Seattle to as far east as New York City staged walkouts, hosted rallies, shut down traffic, and staged sit-ins in front of Trump Towers. Numerous celebrities added their voice to the fight, with Cher and Lin-Manuel Miranda among those who took to Twitter to champion the cause. It was a vibrant display of nationwide solidarity, and a glimpse at the galvanising potential of the immigrant rights movement. 

This flurry of protest and direct action is in stark contrast to the response, or lack thereof, to the Trump administration’s decision to terminate the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for Haiti. This would put nearly 60,000 Haitians living in the US at risk of deportation. The Department of Homeland Security granted Haiti TPS designation in January of 2010 in the wake of the 7.0 earthquake that devastated the small island. Known widely as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere due to imperialist and colonial legacies, Haitian activists say conditions on the island have not improved. Outside of a few protests in Florida, home to the largest population of Haitians living in the US, the silence from the immigrant rights movement and larger community has been deafening. But for those of us who exist at the intersection of xenophobia and anti-black racism, the silence has been unsurprising. The immigrant rights movement has never fully addressed the needs of black migrants in its advocacy work. 

In an era where the word intersectionality has entered the public lexicon, the immigrant rights movement has failed at it.


Black migrants are stuck in an ironic position of simultaneous hyper-visibility and invisibility. Black people, migrant and American-born, are more likely than any other population to be arrested, convicted, and imprisoned in the US criminal enforcement system. According to BAJI, an advocacy group that was formed in 2006, in response to the unmet needs of the black migrant community, black migrants are more likely to have criminal records than any other immigrant group. More than one of every five people facing deportations on criminal grounds is black. Black migrants are being assimilated into the terror of the prison industrial complex at an alarming rate. The over-policing, over incarceration, and overt violence of the policing apparatus that is at the core of the #BlackLivesMatter movement is also an immigrant rights issue.

Despite the numerous and unique sets of challenges that black migrants face, they are often erased from the larger immigration discourse. Political elites have peddled the image of the “bad hombre” entering the country illegally from the southern border so successfully that these caricatures are what the majority of the populace associates with immigration. To be invisible within the public consciousness is to be without the structural and community support other migrant populations benefit from. As a young African organiser, my first activism was within the immigrant rights movement. I was often disillusioned as my attempts to bring attention to the plight of black migrants went unheard. I did not want to change the conversation: I wanted it to become more expansive.

In an era where the word intersectionality has entered the public lexicon, the immigrant rights movement has failed at it. It is the deeply pervasive nature of anti-black racism that erases the existence of black migrants. If the immigrant rights movement is to successfully turn the tide against anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy, there needs to be greater overlap between racial justice and immigrant rights organising. The two movements are not divergent spheres, but overlapping ones. Racial justice is an immigrant rights issue, and immigrant rights are a racial justice issue.

As xenophobia sweeps across the globe, from the US to all across the European continent, the work of the immigrant rights movement is more important than ever. If we are to defeat the bevvy of racist anti-migrant rhetoric and legislation, we need a united front against the forces that wreak havoc in our home countries through myriad imperialist interventions and then abuse us as unwelcome guests in their own. We must challenge the limitations of the Western imaginary that erases the diversity of migrant communities. The future of the movement depends on our ability engage in transformational solidarity for the liberation and self-determination of all our communities. The immigrant rights movement must affirm that #BlackLivesMatter. 

The national silence in the wake of the suspension of TPS, a looming crisis for the Haitian community, is unconscionable. If the immigrant rights movement is to transform the landscape of this increasingly xenophobic country, it must first have a reckoning with its own anti-blackness.

When the news broke of the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to suspend TPS status for Haitians, there was a protest at the Mar-a-Lago in Florida. Led by Haitian activists, the group rallied and chanted. Some of the almost 27,000 US-born children of parents who now face deportation called on Donald Trump to witness their struggle and do the right thing. Perhaps they should make the same plea to the broader immigrant rights movement.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.