I come from a long line of people impacted by arbitrary borders. Both my maternal and paternal grandparents grew up in colonial Kenya along the borders of what was then known as the East African protectorate. The British, and other European colonizers, constantly drew lines demarcating their loot. The impact? A separating of families and communities that had lived alongside each other, and a lasting legacy of cultural and economic devastation.
I come into the work of immigration justice influenced by my own exploration of identity, belonging, and the desire of human beings to exist. The immigration system has offered both hope and despair to immigrant communities. Understanding the racial and class underpinnings of the founding of this country explains the varied experiences of refugees and immigrants based on nationality, race, religion, gender, sexuality, and class.
Amidst the toxicity, there is a fiercely loving community of refugees, immigrants, allies, and organizers who are invested in creating a more just world. At the center of our work is a desire to make Minnesota a safe and loving home for ourselves and our neighbors.
I am most at home in spaces that recognize my full humanity as a Black, queer, immigrant woman.
A Lesson in Past and Present
Beyond social media outrage and lawn signs what does it mean to truly stand with refugees and immigrants?
It begins with the recognition that most of us exist on stolen land — Dakota and Ojibwe land; an economy built by enslaved Black people; and a federal immigration legacy rooted in exclusion and exceptionalism.
All this can sound like rhetoric, as it often does. What does it look like to truly reckon with America’s past and present violence at a time when a national consciousness is screaming Black Lives Matter and Not One More Deportation?
American immigration policy privileges race and class.
One of the first immigration laws was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which specifically curtailed the migration of Chinese peoples. The first immigration detention facilities were built to target Black immigrants and were built at the same time as America was expanding its prison system and waging the war on drugs.
In more recent years, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 began to build the deportation machine that we see today. This policy mirrors the mass incarceration that disproportionately impacts people of color. It allowed the government to deport people at faster rates while at the same time holding people in detention for long periods of time.
In 2009, a mandate was instituted that requires the Department of Homeland Security to have at least 34,000 beds every day to incarcerate human beings.
It is crucial that we tell and understand a complex and nuanced lens of the impact of immigration policy. Immigrant justice spaces are often anti-Black; and many of us are working to disrupt that. As we sound the siren on the resulting oppression from detentions and deportations, we must also uplift narratives that are often erased.
In reading press coverage and social media outrage, it is easy to assume that detainees and deportees are only non-Black Latino, Spanish-speaking immigrants. Underneath the headlines there is a different, more complicated story that includes Black and Asian immigrants.
Immigrant communities in Minnesota often host fundraisers for family and friends in detention. Immigration bail bonds, if granted, can be up to $10,000.
A Somali woman asked for resources to help find her young adult child, who she suspected was being held in detention. He was arrested in Minneapolis on a driving violation and transferred to ICE, where his family frantically located him more than a week after his arrest. This is not unusual.
In the past 12 months, Black immigrants in Minnesota have campaigned to reinstate the immigration status of thousands of Liberian, Sudanese, South Sudanese, Somali, and Haitian immigrants. In less than a year, these immigrants, who have lived in the U.S. for decades, will be forced to leave to countries not ready to repatriate them en masse.
When you live in community, stories from the headlines are your collective lived experience.