Commentary: Africa, the Caribbean Should Factor Into Immigration Debate

For too long, discussion of immigration reform seems to focus exclusively on migration from Mexico.

Posted: 02/27/2013 08:45 AM EST

Mathieu Eugene, a City Councilman who represents portions of Brooklyn, New York, says he nearly bristles at the narrowness of the public discourse regarding immigration.

“All you hear is people talking about border control, border control,” said Eugene, the first Haitian-born American elected to office in New York City. “The United States is a land of immigrants and immigrants come here from throughout the world, from the Caribbean and Africa, too. But they are not part of the discussion. And that bothers me.”

He isn’t alone. More and more people are complaining that the discussion of immigration has developed an unnecessarily narrow focus. In the ongoing political discussion regarding immigration, it seems that the political considerations on the topic focus exclusively on the Hispanic population. Immigration has virtually become a topic that is widely viewed as one that speaks exclusively to the political gains from courting Latino voters.

What is fueling the Republican effort to become more moderate on immigration is how the issue plays for them politically. Republicans have come to understand that the complexion of America is becoming browner. And they have come to view courting the Hispanic vote as key to their long-term political survival.

But immigration policy should not be based on the potential political plunders. It should be approached as a method to provide an even-handed approach to access to the American dream to large swaths of the international community, including those from Africa and the Caribbean. And, with roughly 3 million black immigrants in this country and more on the way, it is critical to expand the dialogue.

Just in the 1990s, the Black immigration from sub-Saharan Africa increased threefold at the same that Black immigration from the Caribbean jumped by more than 60 percent, according to demographers at the State University of New York at Albany. Take New York City as an example. By the year, 2000, Black residents born in other countries accounted for about 30 percent of all the Black population in the city. Similarly, they made up 28 percent of the Black population in Boston.

Yet, they make up close to zero percent of the public debate on the topic. There are specific issues that involve this population of immigrants – and potential immigrants – that have nothing to do with patrolling along the borders of Texas and Arizona.

The majority of Black immigrants come to the United States legally for professional and educational opportunities. They often acquire student or tourist visas and frequently run into immigration troubles by remaining in the country beyond the expiration dates of those visas. Others have sought to come to the United States in order to flee repressive political regimes or to avoid violence or the impact of natural disasters, as in the case of Haiti.

What would be welcomed is an even broader national discussion on how to reform the nation’s immigration laws with an eye toward a more compassionate, more global set of goals. As New York Councilman Eugene said, “I am very happy that President Obama is trying to improve the laws of immigration. But I would love to see more focus on a greater number of the world’s people.”

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