Immigration Debate Ignores Highly Skilled Black Workers

Africans and Caribbeans have no political muscle in the immigration fight, while politicans clamor over the voting potential of a growing Latino population.

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But while African and Caribbean migrants represent one of the fastest growing and most super-educated migrant groups in the nation, they are also a lost population, relying heavily on the fate of “diversity visas” in cluttered immigration-reform legislation to determine their future here. Granted, some of that is partly due to silence and lack of movement from many black immigrants themselves.

And, obviously, immigration reform is not high on the U.S. black agenda priority list (pdf). High unemployment and other bad stuff can easily distract an American black family. As a result, immigration is not receiving needed attention, despite the fast-growing share of the population that African and Caribbean migrants account for in major black communities in places such as New York, Washington, D.C., and Miami.  

That makes the issue much more complex and multifaceted. And despite the enormous economic opportunities, the African-American political establishment finds itself sidelined in the debate like a bad NFL team shut out of the playoffs. Those on the state and local level are typically reactive to changing demographics, but black members of Congress are not getting called into this game.

So when House Speaker John Boehner recently signaled an opening to revive immigration-reform prospects, there was little sense that Congressional leaders would be checking in with the Congressional Black Caucus to get their take on it. The tiny and informal bipartisan House “Gang of 8” that’s tasked itself to craft a bill has tinkered along for a while now without any black members on it, save CBC input graciously channeled through fellow Democrats who promise solids one way or the other. 

But, since out of sight is out of mind, their role is largely uncertain. Perhaps that calculus dramatically changes depending on what pressure, if any, black migrant advocates in predominantly black Congressional districts can bring. Something needs to change soon: Persuading the tech sector to include tech-skilled black Diaspora migrants in the debate might be a good place to kick and push. (Maybe that will happen since newly elected Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) is the top recipient of that sector’s political cash.) But once deals are cut, bills are passed and outcomes take shape, many could end up—once again—on the short end of the political stick.

Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and frequent contributor to The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune and chief political correspondent for Uptown magazine. You can reach him via Twitter.