Many Black undocumented immigrants’ deportations have gone quietly unnoticed.
Trump’s recent attacks on undocumented immigrants have ripped apart families, mistakenly detained immigrants protected under DACA, and incited fear among immigrant communities here in America. Trump’s rhetoric about “bad hombres” and Mexico sending the worst of its people to America has created an archetype of an undocumented immigrant: We most often hear stories in the media about the targeting and unfair deportation of undocumented immigrants from Mexican and other Central American countries. But Mexican and other Central American immigrants are not the only group under siege. In particular, there are also Black undocumented immigrants whose deportations have gone quietly unnoticed.
To be Black in America is to be in a state of hypervisibility; your actions and/or behavior are stigmatized by myths and misconceptions about what it means to be Black. Especially in light of recent, growing awareness of police shootings and police brutality, Black people already have a target on their back. Being undocumented only makes this targeting worse. Indeed, the Trump administration deported 130 people to Senegal last month, and the deportation of African/Black immigrants has increased dramatically since 2016. In 2014, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported 1,203 African immigrants. The image of the Latino immigrant not only erases awareness and understanding of the African/Black immigrant experience, but does a more immediate disservice to the hundreds of Black undocumented immigrants being targeted.
“Black immigrants are subject to the same racialized criminal justice system Black Americans are—but Black immigrants face an additional consequence: removal from the U.S. It’s called ‘crimmigration’” writes Breanne Palmer, for CollectivelyUnbossed. Palmer makes a good point: Black undocumented immigrants aren’t afforded the same kind of anonymity that Irish undocumented immigrants or any other white/white-passing immigrant are. As Palmer goes on to explain, being Black and undocumented in America doesn’t matter to a police officer because the first thing they see is a Black person, who is already criminalized by default. All that matters is that there is a Black body in custody. Things really begin to hit the fan once police realize the Black person they targeted doesn’t have any papers.
Emphasizing the experiences of Mexican and Central American immigrants can not only have a crippling effect on the visibility of Black immigrants’ strife in America, but it can also hinder other groups that lie in the intersection of Black and Latinx communities. For example, Afro-Latinx people can fall within any of these groups, and their experiences as undocumented people do not fit into a single category or experience of being undocumented. Dan-el Padilla Peralta highlights this experience in his book about coming of age as an undocumented immigrant in New York, Undocumented: A Dominican Boy’s Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League. After an incident where the police wrongly searched his apartment, the first thing that came to Dan-el’s mind when his mom told him the news was whether or not the police had inquired into their immigration status. And as a dark-skinned Dominican, there was no set box Dan-el could fit in while growing up in New York City. All of his identities—Black, Latinx, undocumented—intermingled and clashed on a daily basis.
The struggles of all undocumented immigrants unfairly targeted by the Trump administration are all worth telling, whether or not the storyteller is Mexican. That’s not to say we should pay less attention to the stories of undocumented Mexican immigrants, just that we should consider those of Black undocumented immigrants as well. Considering the hatred and vitriol Trump has encouraged in this country, it’s important, if not essential, that we do.