The Black Immigration Network (BIN), a national coalition of individuals and organizations “serving black immigrant and African American communities focused on supporting fair and just immigration,” deemed today – May 13 – a National Day of Demands. The Network released an open letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee outlining ten amendment recommendations that, if supported by the Senate, would lead to “fair, just and inclusive immigration reform.”
Opal Tometi, the National Coordinator of the Black Immigration Network explains, “Many are dissatisfied and down-right insulted with some of what has been proposed in this bill. Many aspects of this bill ignore the fact that immigrants are integral to this society. And some Senators discount the fact that immigrants are connected to families, friends and the larger community.”
The letter and recommendations are in response to the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 proposed by the Senate Gang of Eight on April 17. Some of the recommendations BIN has put forth include expanding categories for family visas; maintaining the Diversity Visa program; shortening the length of time to reach citizenship; and allowing all immigrants access to healthcare and public benefits.
Diminishing the categories for family-based visas in favor of “merit-based visas” would limit “sponsorship by U.S. residents to only their spouses and unmarried children under the age of 31.” That means “parents, siblings and other relatives would no longer be eligible for a family-based visa.” BIN and other pro-immigrant organizations argue that this measure is fundamentally anti-family and “treats human beings as economic units whose primary value is as workers, not humans.” Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA of Maryland, proclaims, “We believe immigration should be family based, and that corporations should not have the power over who can come here and who cannot.” “Eliminating siblings and adult children would disqualify between 65,000 – 90,000 people a year,” the Black Immigration Network determines.
As part of Senate negotiations to raise the number of “work-related visas,” the Diversity Visa program would also be eliminated if the proposed Gang of Eight bill were to pass. Established in 1990, the program currently, according to the Washington Post, offers 65,000 visas a year to “applicants from any country that has not had a large number of recent immigrants.”
The Black Immigration Network notes, “About 30% to 50% of the 50,000 visas each year go to people in African nations. Potential immigrants from African and Caribbean nations and other underrepresented countries should not be excluded from consideration for migration.”
With regard to the proposed 13-year wait time for citizenship, BIN believes “that a five-year process is a fair period of time.” A citizenship process lasting over a decade “is unduly long and burdens families with uncertainty and anxiety,” the letter adds.
When the 2005 Sensenbrenner immigration bill sparked mass protests around the country, along with calls for just and fair reform, the immigrant rights movement became decidedly Latino. And while the bulk of the 11 million aspiring Americans awaiting citizenship are Latino, the narratives and needs of the some three million Black immigrants largely from the Caribbean and Africa have been somewhat overshadowed.
Organizations like the Black Immigration Network and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration have been working to bridge that disconnect in the immigration reform and immigrant rights debate. The demands laid out in the open letter addressed to the Gang of Eight raises concerns for all immigrants awaiting citizenship, but it especially speaks to the heightened vulnerability of Black immigrants from countries like Haiti, Somalia, Sudan, and El Salvador, among others.
Often coming from countries with dangerously high political climates or devastated by natural disasters, more than 300,000 Black immigrants have found their way to the United States on temporary visas. BIN is asking for the path to citizenship to be extended to these individuals, some who have “established roots in the United States and have raised their families here.”
The ambitious demand letter has already received more than 200 signatures of support from organizations and individuals from around the country. Hundreds are participating in various activities throughout the country to uplift points made in the letter. Activities include visiting Senators’ local offices, making phone calls to the Senate Judiciary Committee members, and holding press conferences to show public support for fair, just and inclusive immigration reform.