Black immigrants face unique challenges

By Reema Ghabra

Black Immigrant and Refugee Equity (BIRE) Project Fellow

Over the past twenty years, the Black immigrant population in the United States has more than tripled from 600,000 immigrants to 2 million immigrants. That population is diverse, with a majority migrating from African and Caribbean countries. They compromise around ten percent of the overall Black population in the United States.

Even with the growth of the Black immigrant population in the United States, they continue to face unique immigration challenges rooted in anti-Black discrimination. Black immigrants face higher rates of detention and deportation than other immigrant populations. An AFSC study from 2021 found that Black immigrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention were more likely to have lengthier detentions and were six times more likely to be sent to solitary confinement.

While Black immigrants consisted of less than six percent of the undocumented immigrant population in the United States between 2003 and 2015, they represent over ten percent of immigrants in removal proceedings at that time. Further, according to Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), one out of every five noncitizens in deportation proceedings based on criminal grounds before the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) is Black. Black immigrants are also denied asylum at a higher rate than other people. While the overall number of deportations from the United States of immigrants decreased in 2017, the number of deportations of Black African immigrants increased.

Discrimination against Black immigrants has persisted under the Biden administration, which continues to implement the Trump administration’s “Title 42” policy. The Biden administration also continues to deport Black immigrants at high rates. In fact, ICE is anticipated to deport approximately 2,000 Black immigrants just in the month of February.

The administration has been especially unfair to Haitian migrants. It has allowed a mass expulsion and deportation of these Haitians, and those still in the United States face discrimination. Currently, more than forty percent of the families in ICE detention are Haitian migrants and the average bond paid for Haitian migrants averaged $16,700, 54% higher than the rate for other immigrants in detention.

I chose to pursue a career in immigration law because as a first-generation Muslim Syrian American, I have a personal connection to marginalized immigration populations in the U.S. I am focused on representing immigrants in the U.S. who face legal challenges due to our country’s racial discrimination against minority communities. As the holder of Human Rights First’s Black Immigrant and Refugee Equity (BIRE) fellowship, an initiative funded by the California Department of Social Services, I provide pro bono legal representation to Black immigrants throughout Southern California.

I represent Black refugees in a variety of settings: individuals in immigration detention facilities, families that have long been separated, and those reunified in the United States. My clients come from countries such as Uganda, Kenya, Senegal, Cameroon, and Cuba. All have faced significant challenges in accessing the U.S. asylum system, often after facing years of horrific abuse, torture, and persecution in their home countries.

My asylum-seeking clients often note that they fled persecution in their home countries only to be treated like criminals in the United States. As an attorney defending Black immigrants’ legal rights, I have the opportunity to do more than the important work of ensuring that my clients have fair and just access to the asylum system, I can challenge deeply rooted anti-Black immigration policies.

This Black History Month, I urge you to join me and my colleagues at Human Rights First in honoring Black migrants and refugees, valuing their immeasurable contributions to our society, and supporting the organizations fighting injustice on their behalf. Finally, I urge you to support the call for the Biden administration to grant Temporary Protected Status for the over 40,000 Cameroonians in the United States in need of urgent protection.

To learn more about these issues and to support the organizations working to protect the rights of Black migrants, you can uplift the following accounts:



  • Reema Ghabra

Published on February 17, 2022


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