Partnership Series Explores the Experience of Black Immigrants Arriving in the U.S.

July 14, 2020 by Kate Michael
Anthony Greene, associate professor, African American Studies, The College of Charleston.

WASHINGTON – A summer series partnership between the District of Columbia’s Heurich House Museum and the Bipartisan Policy Center is exploring the immigrant experience in America. 

Last week’s discussion, the second in the series, focused specifically on immigrants’ arrivals and included details on how the process, which has changed over time, remains challenging for some groups today.

Theresa Brown, director of Immigration and Cross-Border Policy at the center, a Washington-based think tank, says that brewmaster Christian Heurich, who migrated to the United States from Germany after the Civil War, may have shared an experience that “parallels a portion” of today’s migration experience, since he came to the U.S. voluntarily, though he arrived well before the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. 

This Act set the framework for today’s legal immigration system in the U.S.

Americans encouraged relatively free and open immigration through the mid-1800s, but voluntary immigration to the U.S. really took off after the Civil War, according to Brown. Before the war, states largely regulated immigration for themselves. But in 1875, the Supreme Court decided that regulation of immigration should be a federal responsibility. A series of Acts in the late-1880s prohibited certain laborers from immigrating to the United States, levied a head tax on immigrants, imposed quotas on countries of origin, and even excluded the entry of certain persons for personal or health reasons. 

In spite of these restrictive immigration laws, Brown says that voluntary Black immigration to the U.S. has been strong as a result of other favorable Acts, including the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act’s prioritization of family visas, the Refugee Act of 1980, and the Immigration Act of 1990’s diversity visa program. In fact, the Black immigrant population has increased fivefold since 1980, and Brown says there are more than 4 million Black foreign-born immigrants in the U.S. right now. 

But despite sharing a skin color, these immigrants have very different cultural backgrounds and may have vastly different immigration experiences. 

“Somehow, if you are a Black immigrant, you’re just ‘Black in America’,” says Dr. Anthony Greene, associate professor with the African American Studies program and the Department of Sociology at the College of Charleston. “If we want to embrace diversity, we have to stop lumping people from all over the globe as being Black.” 

Added to that, “the experience of being a natural-born Black American is fundamentally different [than being a Black immigrant],” Green says. “Unfortunately, we think that because [one has] melanated skin, their experience is the same.” Greene insists that racism differs between these groups, and indeed among immigrant subcultures. 

He insists that race continues to be a factor that creates obstacles to the upward mobility of Black immigrants, even those who come to the U.S. for higher education, or as middle-class white-collar professionals looking for skilled job opportunities. “The Black experience [anywhere] has commonalities for limiting opportunities,” Greene says.

And perhaps further limiting those opportunities, recent policies have had a disproportionate influence on Black immigration to the U.S. Non-Mexican refugees attempting to enter the U.S. through the U.S.-Mexican border are getting caught up in policies intended to address Central American migration. There is also the issue of the administration’s “Muslim Ban” on 13 countries including Nigeria, and, due to COVID-19, there has been a suspension of immigrant visas, which canceled this year’s diversity visa lottery.

And even non-Black immigrants face challenges other than barriers to entry, lengthy documentation processes, and discrimination. America is one of the few countries that does not have a national integration program. While immigrants get a basic orientation and some acculturation sponsored by the State Department, this happens haphazardly. The result is an experience of inclusion that is as diverse as the populations that arrive. 

A future panel on October 14, 2020, will further describe the immigrant experience in America as it relates to immigrants’ integration.

Immigration

Trump’s Latest Move Would Gut DACA Program, Dreamers Say
Immigration
Trump’s Latest Move Would Gut DACA Program, Dreamers Say

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration’s move to curtail a program sparing young immigrants from deportation is an effort to “dismantle” an initiative the U.S. Supreme Court just spared, a group of immigrants said in court. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said last month that the... Read More

Florida Quietly Changed Driver’s License Requirements for Immigrants
Immigration
Florida Quietly Changed Driver’s License Requirements for Immigrants

MIAMI — Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants who have been able to drive legally in Florida may be unable to get driver’s licenses again, after the state quietly changed its identification requirements for obtaining licenses. In May the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor... Read More

Assessing U.S. Canadian Border Policy’s Future Effects
Foreign Affairs
Assessing U.S. Canadian Border Policy’s Future Effects
August 7, 2020
by Kate Michael

WASHINGTON - Canada is not usually at the center of debate on U.S. immigration, but policy changes due to COVID-19 have atypically limited travel to Canada and affected the United States’ and Canada’s control of the movement of people and goods across their shared border in... Read More

With DACA Ruling, Did Supreme Court Grant Trump New Powers to Reshape Health Care?
Immigration
With DACA Ruling, Did Supreme Court Grant Trump New Powers to Reshape Health Care?

President Donald Trump came into office vowing to repeal and replace Obamacare. While he successfully neutralized the health care law’s requirement that everyone carry insurance, the law remains in effect. When Fox News host Chris Wallace noted that Trump has yet to put forward a replacement... Read More

Asylum Seekers at U.S. Mexico Border, A ‘Population in Peril’
Immigration
Asylum Seekers at U.S. Mexico Border, A ‘Population in Peril’
July 31, 2020
by Kate Michael

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - Well before the pandemic, migrants at the northern Mexican border were vulnerable to poor health outcomes. Mexican and U.S. policies put in place before COVID-19 affected migrants' quality of life, and policies added during the health crisis may have put asylum seekers and... Read More

Trump to Keep DACA Protections in Place to Review Court Decision, Reject New Applications
Immigration
Trump to Keep DACA Protections in Place to Review Court Decision, Reject New Applications

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will allow certain young, undocumented immigrants to renew deportation protections for one year as his administration reviews a Supreme Court decision that blocked his efforts to end a program designed to let them remain in the U.S. The administration will maintain... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top