1996-2016 : “20 years after the harshest immigration laws ever approved in the US”

The Black Alliance for Just Immigration is a racial justice and migrants rights organization that organizes and advocates on behalf of Black immigrants and Black Americans in the U.S.  BAJI was founded in 2006 in the aftermath of egregious state and federal immigration proposals for the purpose of mobilizing Black Americans to support the immigrant rights movement. Since then they’ve evolved to advocate around a broad range of issues impacting Black people in the US including mass criminalization, immigration enforcement, and economic inequality. Interview with Carl Lipscombe, Policy and legal manager at BAJI.


On the occasion of 20 years since the 1996 immigration laws, you’ve just made a call to oppose to them. What’s BAJI’s purpose ?


We are advocating for Congress to repeal the 1996 laws. These laws are amongst the harshest laws on the books in the US. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) expanded the grounds for detaining and deporting immigrant and was the first law to authorize now-widely-used fast-track deportation procedures. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) signed a few months later, made sweeping changes to allow for deportations to be retroactive and broadened the types of crimes that could result in deportation to include minor offenses such as drug possession and eliminated judicial discretion. It also established classes of “mandatory detention” in the US.


How does it affect to the black community, as well as to undocumented individuals?


More than one out of every five non-citizens facing deportation on criminal grounds before the Executive Office of Immigration Review is Black. Black immigrants are more likely to face deportation proceedings than the broader immigrant population. While Black immigrants make up only 7.2% of the noncitizen population in the U.S., they make up 20.3% of immigrants facing deportation on criminal grounds before the Executive Office of Immigration Review. That’s compared to 10% of all immigrants in deportation proceedings who have criminal grounds of removability.

Black immigrants are more likely to be detained  for criminal convictions than the immigrant population overall. While immigrants generally are 3.5 times more likely to be detained for an immigration violation than a criminal conviction, these numbers are reversed when it comes to Black immigrants.  Black immigrants are twice as likely to be detained due to a criminal conviction. Black immigrants are much more likely than nationals from every other region to be deported due to a criminal conviction.


Could you please explain us which is the retroactive effect of crime’s punishment as exposed in those laws ?


What this means is that someone who committed a crime years, even decades, before the 1996 laws were passed can be deported because of those offenses. This is even if they’ve served prison time for such offenses. They can still be detained and deported.


Which are the actions taken by BAJI in order to improve justice system in your country?


We work on several strategies to end the criminalization on immigrants and to reform the 1996 laws. One of them os organizing, so we engage and train black inmigrants to talk about the 1996 laws and to be able to talk to decision makers in their cities, in communities on these laws. And we also advocate, we build the relationships with elective officials, including members of the US Congress, leaders on the local level, city council members, state elected officials, in order to pass laws that benefit inmigrants. We build coalitions, we are in partnerships with other organizations, both inmigrants’ rights organizations and racial justice organizations broadly, to work across the country, but also organizations that directy serves black inmigrants.

One project that BAJI anchors is called the Black Inmigration Network, which is an alliance of 40 organizations that serve black inmigrants across the US. Two months ago the Bllack Inmigration Network had its national conference, where about 250 activists came together to share strategies, to network, and just to talk about the issues impacting our communities around the country. One last thing we also engaged in are communications and public education, so we engaged the media in issues facing black immigrants and we also train black immigrants to how tell their stories.


How is the image of black inmigrants as portrayed through the US media ?


The media in the US is a corporated entity and it’s based on profit making. When it comes to our communities, black immigrants, we’re largely invisible in the media, here in the US. The media tend to focus on inmigrants of latin american countries, and inmigration is discussed in the context of Mexico, just latino inmigrants, and the face of inmigrants in the US, it’s almost never a black inmigrant. For black inmigrants, our fight within the media is really just to be acknowledged, to get the media to recognize that there are inmigrants in the US from countries with large black populations.

Then, because black inmigrants are absent within the media, we are absent in the broader consciousness in the US. So generally, issues impacting black inmigrants aren’ discussed, even in the inmigrants’ rights movement here, black inmigrants have to fight to become visible. We at BAJI want to really push some of our partners in issues impacting black inmigrants, because we share the same issues than other inmigrants, but we have also unique issues, such as mass criminalization, and the high level of deportations that face black inmigrants. That’s one of the raisons why BAJI puts such a high emphasis on public education and communications on social media. It’s because we are fighting for our communities being recognized.


What do you think about the US prison system, specially the prison industrial complex and the overcrowding phenomenon?


BAJI believes in the abolition of all forms of imprisonment including jails, prisons, and detention centers. We believe that resources spent on imprisonment should be diverted to programs that produce real public safety such as rehabilitation, counseling, jobs programs, vocational training, education, and housing.


Source: Investig’Action