Undocumented Black Immigrants May Fare Worse Without DACA Protections

Jonathan Jayes-Green (courtesy of Jonathan Jayes-Green); Tobore Oweh (courtesy of Tebore Oweh); Mwewa Sumbwe (courtesy of Mwewa Sumbwe)
Jonathan Jayes-Green (courtesy of Jonathan Jayes-Green); Tobore Oweh (courtesy of Tebore Oweh); Mwewa Sumbwe (courtesy of Mwewa Sumbwe)

Tobore Oweh knows the next six months of her life will be stressful after Donald Trump’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program Tuesday.


She is one of 800,000 people covered under the Obama-era policy who fears the worst if Congress doesn’t come together to resolve the crisis Trump created.

She and her parents originally arrived in the U.S. from Nigeria when she was a child, so America is the only home she knows. Now she’s bracing for the prospect of being deported to a country that is essentially foreign to her.

“Just being a black woman in America already is challenging,” she said. “Being a black person in America is challenging. Adding undocumented on top of that is a double whammy.”

Trump’s move to rescind DACA also reminds Mwewa Sumbwe of what it means to live in the United States as an undocumented black woman. She came to America from Zambia with her parents when she was just 4 years old and settled in Silver Spring, Md. She attends school at the University of Maryland and wants to start her own business some day.

Being black in America in general is a daily process of walking on the eggshells of white supremacy, but being undocumented adds another layer of racial aggression.

As the Daily Beast reports, people who are stopped by cops are subject to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers being alerted to their arrest because the Department of Homeland Security has said that ICE can use DACA information to deport people under arrest. And, as we know, black people are much more likely than members of any other group to be stopped by police.


For a black person who doesn’t have documentation issues, they just have to worry about an arrest. For Sumbwe, an arrest could mean deportation.

“Everywhere I go, I have to be suspicious of everything,” she said. “It’s draining because you really can’t just live freely. If I am having a conversation with police or a legal authority, [I think about] how I’m presenting myself. Am I speaking properly? Should I defend myself? It’s this constant feeling of strategizing on how to survive.”


While much of the attention over Trump’s DACA decision has focused on Hispanic recipients, black immigrants are facing many of the consequences as well.

There are more than 575,000 black undocumented immigrants in the United States, according to the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. In its recent State of Black Immigrants report (pdf), BAJI found that the vast majority of people who took advantage of former President Barack Obama’s 2012 administrative program DACA were Mexicans, at 78 percent of application-approval rates. Comparatively, only 3 percent of African immigrants and 2 percent of people of Caribbean descent were eligible for DACA, out of an eligibility pool of 1.2 million.


Even more troubling is the fact that black undocumented immigrants are much more at risk of being deported than any other group, according to BAJI’s report. While black immigrants make up just 5.4 percent of the undocumented population, they make up (pdf) 10.6 percent of immigrants in removal proceedings between 2003 and 2015.

Carl Lipscombe, deputy director of BAJI, said that black immigrants are not a focal point of the DACA conversation because the program never prioritized black communities. He said that when the Obama administration marketed the program, most of the attention was tailored to Latino communities, leaving black undocumented immigrants unaware of DACA’s benefits. Lipscombe has a theory as to why that was.


“It really boils down to an element of white supremacy within the immigrant-rights movement that preferences light-skinned people,” he said. “What we’ve seen over the past 20 years in the mainstream immigrant-rights movement is this focus on integration and assimilation. But when they’re talking about integrating and assimilating into the U.S., they’re not talking about assimilating into black America. They’re talking about immigrating into white America and having that white picket fence and go[ing] to the Ivy League schools and start[ing] a business. All of those things are dog whistles against African Americans, who are stereotyped as being uneducated and lazy.”

Besides the racial component of being black and undocumented, there is also the issue of challenging the notion of faulting parents for bringing their children to America to enjoy a better future.


Jonathan Jayes-Green, co-founder of the UndocuBlack Network, a national organization that supports black immigrants and helps amplify their stories, is careful not to stigmatize his parents for bringing him to the United States from Panama.

“Our immigration system isn’t meant for people to immigrate legally, unless you are privileged or from a particular country,” he said. “There are literally paths for people that are less likely to be black or poor. That part of the conversation gets lost when people say, ‘Oh, all of these young people came here through no fault of their own.’ I am not here for faulting my parents. I think they made an incredibly brave choice to move to this country to pursue what they believed to be the American dream, but also not knowing all of the consequences that would come with them making that choice.”


Indeed, America immigration laws have a long history of racism. Whether it was capping Chinese immigration during the 1800s, limiting the number of Eastern European Jews entering the country with a 1924 congressional act or putting Japanese-American citizens in internment camps during World War II, America has always targeted nonwhite and/or non-Christian people as dangers to American whiteness. Trump is just resurrecting old racist policies with his own 2017 version, namely his recent order that essentially functions as a Muslim ban.

We also see racism in American immigration laws when wealthy Russians—who come from a country that America’s intelligence community agrees meddled in the 2016 presidential election—are able to travel freely to the U.S. and make babies on Trump properties with the sole purpose of gaining U.S citizenship for them.


Sumbwe knows all too well the racial hypocrisy of immigration in America, which is why she refuses to hide in fear. America needs to know that she exists. As far as Sumbwe is concerned, she is exhibit A of why America’s immigration policy needs to be fixed. And she says no one is better suited to explain why than she is.

“If I don’t tell my story, someone else will,” Sumbwe said. “And they will tell it wrong, and that happens all the time. It’s necessary for us to tell our stories because many people don’t get that immigration is a black issue and that we exist. So it is voicing for people who are still afraid.”


When asked if she is worried about deportation or being so outspoken about her DACA status, Oweh admits that it is always on her mind, but it will not stop her from sharing her story. Congress, America, everyone needs to hear about how unjust Trump’s DACA action is—even if that puts her on the feds’ radar.

“Of course I’m scared about that, but I’m not the one who lives in fear,” she said. “I feel that what is for me is for me. And if that means not being in America, that’s my destiny, but I would like to be in America. America is all I know. America is all I’ve grown up in. America is me.”

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter at The Root. He is currently writing a book proposal that analyzes US-Russia relations from a black perspective.


Prostate of Dorian Gray

“I am not here for faulting my parents. I think they made an incredibly brave choice to move to this country to pursue what they believed to be the American dream, but also not knowing all of the consequences that would come with them making that choice.”

These are the people we want to come here. They believe in America so much they move here with nothing but hope. It’s on the damn Statue of Liberty for goodness sake! We are supposed to be the safe haven for anyone trying to escape oppression around the world.