Town hall brings to light racism, experiences of Black migrants

By: - October 19, 2021 5:12 am

Organizers protest against the treatment of Black migrants during an Oct. 5 rally. (Courtesy photo)

As the daughter of Haitian immigrants, Kanesha Lenore Jean-Baptiste described the complicated world of being a Black immigrant in the United States. 

“I’ve served in spaces where we fought for immigration rights, but we didn’t see the faces of Black immigrants,” Jean-Baptiste said at a Black Migrant Town Hall last week. “I’ve also served in spaces where we talk about Black lives, but we didn’t talk about immigration. Oftentimes, intersectionality doesn’t give you access to two different causes or two different groups. It creates a pathway for you to fall within the cracks of all of that and be erased.”

These two worlds began to collide on a national stage in September when Haitian migrants crossed into the United States in Del Rio, Texas to seek asylum and were met with blunt force by U.S. Border Patrol agents.

Photos of men on horseback using their reins as whips while Black migrants ran for safety evoked the imagery of American slavery and the Jim Crow South. The response also sparked outrage and prompted criticism of the Biden administration continuing a Trump administration policy to prevent migrants from seeking asylum. 

Now, the treatment of Haitian migrants is leading to a larger conversation on the obstacles and racism Black migrants in the U.S. face and how their stories can be overlooked when talking about immigration.  

“What’s happening in Del Rio is not a one-off event and it will continue to happen if we don’t really start talking about intersectional identities, in particular Black immigration,” said Jean-Baptiste.

As part of the National Day of Action to Defend Black Immigrants, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada hosted the town hall Thursday calling on the Biden Administration to end the Title 42 policy, a Trump-era regulatory interpretation that Biden has continued and under which migrants entering the U.S. have been expelled and deported without due process.

The town hall followed up on an Oct. 5 protest coordinated by the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, which PLAN is a member of. 

Laura Martin, the executive director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said the events in Del Rio highlighted the anti-Blackness in immigration policies. 

“We want to ensure as Congress debates an immigration bill that that bill doesn’t cause undue burden to Black immigrants,” Martin said. “We are also calling for the end of Title 42, which is a Biden Administration policy, a continuation of what the Trump administration had done, that allows the expulsion of immigrants, like Haitian immigrants, from the country. We are calling for all Black immigrants to be allowed to request asylum, which is legal under U.S. law.”

Other demands include stopping mass deportations in particular of Haitian immigrants. 

“Today, we know over 7,000 Haitian migrants have been expelled, some who haven’t even lived in the country for years,” said Jean-Baptiste. “You have individuals coming from Chile who spoke Spanish and now they are being sent to Haiti. Think about the total disregard to life where you’re Black, we are going to send you on a plane and we’re going to literally throw you away. That is something we are seeing happen at this moment.”

 But the issue is broader than the border and the ongoing deportation of Haitian migrants. 

Jean-Baptiste said Black migrants not only have to face racism similar to other immigrants but also experience anti-Blackness that is prominent in laws including criminal justice policies. 

“All the challenges we face in Black America are very parallel to the experiences we see abroad and within the states, especially for immigrants seeking asylum,” she said. 

One area where that has particularly played out in Nevada is incarceration, Martin said. 

“Black immigrants who are detained usually have higher bonds, sometimes between $5,000 to $10,000 higher than non-Black immigrants,” Martin said. “Arriba Las Vegas has an immigrant bond fund. Even though we are in the Southwest United States where a vast majority of the immigrants are from Mexico, Central and South America, more than half of the people Arriba has bonded out are Black immigrants.”

The town hall was designed to kickstart a public conservation on how to better incorporate the experience of local Black migrants into the larger discussion around immigration. 

Some ideas discussed included making sure any information being posted takes into consideration Black immigrants. 

“When we’re thinking about fliers and thinking about posting on social media, creating graphics that share the identities of darker immigrants is the first way of engagement,” Jean-Baptiste said. 

Other areas that still need to be addressed range from understanding the unique and differing  language barriers of Black immigrants to evaluating the mental and physical health needs of those communities.

In addition to immigrant groups taking into consideration the obstacles faced by Black migrants, Jean-Baptiste encouraged groups fighting for anti-racism to start talking about immigration policy. 

“If we can see organizations or advocates who really center and focus on Black life really pick up immigration as one of the talking points, that would be extremely beneficial,” she added. 

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues.