A number of reports that I have come across recently have highlighted a trend that is all too visible in South Texas immigration prisons—the growing number of black detainees. Black immigrants are generally absent from the immigration debate, but these reports make all too clear that ignoring the unique experience of black immigrants fails to grapple with an important part of the contemporary immigration story.
After roughly thirty years of overzealous policing of black communities, primarily through the so-called War on Drugs, the disproportionate interaction of black males especially with the criminal justice apparatus is well documented. For approximately twenty-five of those years—at least going back to the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 that introduced the concept of the aggravated felony into immigration law—the number of crimes that can serve as the basis for removal has grown exponentially. Two 1996 acts—the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act—threw crImmigration, the convergence of criminal law and immigration law, into hyperspeed.
Attorney and Huffington Post contributor Arlene M. Roberts gives us a snapshot of the consequences of a quarter-century of crImmigration. In “The Faces of Detention: A Report on the Forced Repatriation of Immigrants from the English-Speaking Caribbean,” Roberts writes “Jamaica, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago rank among the top twenty-five countries whose nationals were sent back due to deportation (on average 100 deportees per year) over a ten year period, from April 1, 2007 to August 1, 2007.” Roberts at 11. (Roberts describes her policy recommendations here.)
Roberts is not the first immigration watcher to make the connection between excessive criminal policing and excessive immigration policing. In “Why Black Immigrants Matter,” an essay in the anthology “Keeping Out the Other: A Critical Introduction to Immigration Enforcement Today” (Columbia University Press 2008), sociologist Tamara K. Nopper makes a powerful argument that crImmigration affects black immigrants more than other immigrant communities because black communities have a disproportionately harsh relationship with the criminal justice system, especially policing of drug activity.
Examining DHS data from 1998 to 2005, Nopper writes, “black immigrants have high percentages of criminal deportations, even when their absolute numbers of deportations are relatively low.” Africans, she explains, were much more likely to be deported for crime-related reasons than individuals from Asian, South American, and Central American countries. In a similar vein, “Caribbean immigrants saw the biggest increase out of all of the regions in criminal deportations since 2001.” The connection that Nopper makes between the enforcement of drug laws and the enforcement of immigration laws is unmistakable. To Nopper, the prison-industrial complex has spilled into the immigration policing apparatus—or maybe it’s the other way around.
Like Nopper, journalist Amy Bracken’s article in the September/October 2009 issue of NACLA: Report on the Americas focuses on black immigrants. Bracken, though, specifically addresses Haitians deported for criminal reasons. In “No Mercy: Haitian Criminal Deportees,” Bracken chronicles the resettlement difficulties experienced by the 5,000 Haitians who have been deported since 1996. In addition to the lack of meaningful connection to their country of citizenship—a characteristic common of many immigrants who are deported after having spent many years if not most of their lives in the USA—Bracken discusses the peculiar plight of Haitians.
“Once they arrive,” she writes, “many deportees end up detained…. Although some are released to family within hours, others are held days, weeks, or even months either because they lack friends or relatives in Haiti who can sign them out or because the Haitian police deem them a threat to public safety (based on often rough translations of their criminal records).” Significantly, the Temporary Protected Status that was granted to Haitians who were in the USA on the day that the earthquake struck that country would not assist most of the individuals Bracken discusses because individuals who have been convicted of a felony or two or more misdemeanors are ineligible for TPS. 8 C.F.R. § 244.4(a).
While Roberts, Nopper, and Bracken do not provide a comprehensive look at the effect of crImmigration on black immigrants, they do get the conversation started. Moreover, together these three pieces identify a couple of critical shortcomings of the contemporary immigration debate. First, they point out that modern immigration isn’t just about Latin@s and Asians. Black communities, these writers make clear, have an enormous stake in immigration law. Second, Roberts, Nopper, and Bracken suggest that we need to think of immigration policing in the context of criminal policing. As readers of this blog know, crImmigration inherently blurs the line between these two areas of law in such a way that advocates need to think about the convergence of criminal law and immigration law as more than just the sum of its parts.