Jarring images of Haitian migrants whipped by Border Patrol officers on horseback for attempting to cross the Rio Grande exemplified the open violence that Black migrants face in the U.S. immigration system.
Black migrants, Haitian migrants in particular, have been disproportionately affected by Title 42, a Trump-era migration policy that has been used to expel migrants on the basis of COVID-19 protections. In a statement put out by the Department of Homeland Security, over 2,000 Haitian migrants were deported within one day, with plans to “increase the capacity of removal flights to Haiti and other destinations in the hemisphere…”.
Migrant justice organizations such as UndocuBlack have called out this targeting of Black migrants as an example of the anti-Black racism inherent to the U.S.’s migration system. These deportations of Haitian migrants come just months after the assassination of Haitian President, Jovenel Moïse, and a 7.2 magnitude earthquake, that further exacerbated limited resources available for those affected by COVID-19 in Haiti.
“Black immigrants have been facing open violence from CBP that is reminiscent of the horrific practices endured by their enslaved ancestors centuries ago,” wrote UndocuBlack Network in a social media statement. “Photos of officers using reins of horses on migrants for simply trying to purchase water and food as they wait for the chance to seek protection.”
Founded in 2016, UndocuBlack Network is a multigenerational group of Black immigrants, both formerly or currently undocumented, working to build thriving Black migrant communities while addressing the underrepresentation of Black migrants in the migrant justice movement. Danyeli Rodriguez, an artist, poet, organizer and Creative Expression Specialist of the UndocuBlack Network, discussed what was missing for herself within the migrant justice community, as a formerly undocumented Dominican migrant.
“Most of the time when I was organizing, it was predominantly non-Black spaces, and they were Latino spaces,” Rodriguez said. “The certain stories that I connected with weren’t really represented. Those are stories of people who crossed the ocean, not the desert. Central American and Mexican narratives dominated what it meant to be an immigrant in this country, especially in mainstream media.”
The representation that UndocuBlack provides, as Rodriguez has observed, has been revolutionary not only for herself but for UndocuBlack’s membership base.
“When our members first come in contact with UndocuBlack, there’s a bit of hesitancy between us and them. They feel hesitant, our communities are so marginalized that at many times they don’t trust big organizations and that’s why many times you don’t see Black immigrants in many organizations,” Rodriguez said. “But when they come to UndocuBlack and see the work we do, they’ve read our values, they received the support that we provide, the resources we send out. I always receive emails, like ‘Hey, thank you for what you do!,’ ‘Hey, I feel so welcomed at UndocuBlack,’ ‘Hey I never thought a group of people are speaking about this.’ That’s when I know the work we are doing is meaningful.”
UndocuBlack Network, as Rodriguez spoke to, addresses the intersectional identities and experiences of their membership bases, whose migration experiences are not broadly represented. From helping Liberian migrants sign up for a new bill to receive Lawful permanent residents (LPR) status, to addressing violence faced by Haitian migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, to spotlighting the experiences of Afro-Latino/a/x migrants, the work UndocuBlack is engaged in is wide-ranging. Rodriguez called to attention the broader, more intersectional policy that UndocuBlack invests in to address this myriad of experiences in their membership base.
“That looks like supporting bills like decriminalizing marijuana because we recognize that police presence in Black neighborhoods disproportionately affect Black people, which trickles down to Black immigrants facing a ridiculous number of deportations in comparison to other non-Black communities,” Rodriguez said. “In that way, the way that we use language makes our ears perk up when we hear “criminal bars,” or “only three misdemeanors,” things that criminalize people. Right away, we know that is code for Black people are going to be discriminated against, or Black people are going to be marginalized out of this bill or kept out of this bill.”
UndocuBlack runs several different campaigns to address the systemic inequities that Black migrants face, both socially and politically. Currently, UndocuBlack is working on two major campaigns: their Mental Wellness Initiative and Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness legislation. Their Mental Wellness Initiative focuses on providing mental health resources and services to their base, especially as Black migrant communities have been subject to increased targeting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There was a lot of support we needed to provide for mental health resources,” Rodriguez said. “We created a doc with Mental Health Resources for folks that were affordable. We did research on medical insurance in the DMV area (District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia) and what looked like for undocumented people. If folks are not given insurance, how would they have access to therapy? Affordable therapy at that. ”
These documents are widely available on the UndocuBlack Network site, provided by and for community care and wellness.
UndocuBlack’s second campaign centers around the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness (LRIF) legislation. Passed by Congress in 2019, the LRIF provides a pathway for Liberian Migrants under temporary protected status (TPS) a clear, expedited pathway to becoming a legal permanent resident until 2024.
“The Liberian Refugee Immigration Act is the only bill that has been passed providing green cards in decades, probably since the ‘90s,” Rodriguez said. “The bill is especially important because it is the first bill that specifically impacts, advocates, and centers Black people. Essentially it impacts Liberians and allows for Liberians to apply for a green card. Not only that, it was able to pass as the fastest way to citizenship yet. When you apply and when you get your green card, a few months later you can apply for your citizenship. And that’s unheard of. And we made that happen.”
The effectiveness of these campaigns shows how UndocuBlack Network’s work within the migrant justice movement is vital, bringing resources to Black migrants who are most vulnerable to violence in the U.S. immigration system.
“The understanding, the mutual love for each other, the care is so genuine and so organic. I have never experienced that in other organizing spaces,” Rodriguez said. “I think part of that has to do that understand that yes, we are all undocumented, but there is another layer…Another layer of exhaustion of having to do this work and having to face it every single day. The folks at UndocuBlack get that.”