UAO aims to serve as the African Community Resource Clearinghouse wherein constituents gather, access information, share experiences, exchange views, and coordinate organizational capacity development. UAO's hub of resources on this website is intended to assist community members in navigating services, programs and resources that are available to help them cope better in the United States.
In recent years United States has experienced a significantly increased number of immigrants crossing its South border. In May 2022, annus mirabilis, 224,370 migrants have crossed the US-Mexico border; a record high never seen before. This major climacteric has unleashed so many passions and brought the national debate on immigration to a much more heated level.
Amid the tumult, I have decided, as an Immigration Case Worker at United African Organization (UAO) and also as a recently naturalized American, to share these notes I have been jotting down these last months. It’s about asylum seekers’ life stories and my thoughts on how these stories should inspire us all. By doing so, I hope to shed light on a phenomenon so important to all Americans. Their stories revive in our memory the same existential lesson President Reagan In his legendary oracular wisdom taught us four decades ago in his Farewell speech; “Other countries may seek to compete with us; but in one vital area, as a beacon of freedom and opportunity that draws the people of the world, no country on Earth comes close. This, I believe, is one of the most important sources of America’s greatness. We lead the world because, unique among nations, we draw our people — our strength — from every country and every corner of the world. And by doing so we continuously renew and enrich our nation.”
To better understand President Reagan’s rational, let me share with you the story of one refugee and three asylum seekers I have worked with.
Tre was 6 when he was forced to leave his South Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo RDC where his tribe the Munyamulenge, led by Jules Mutebuzi, a rebel leader who was fighting the Armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were persecuted and forced to move by thousands to Burundi. He lived then in Burundi 12 years as refugee. In 2018 a program of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) helps his family fly to the US as refugees. As such, he could get immigration benefits and enrolled at the University of Illinois in Chicago (UIC) where he is, now, studying Mechanical engineering and dreams to lead projects at General Motors.
Two other Congolese, Mr. EDM and Mr. PMM received, both, excellence scholarships from the Government of Congo Brazzaville. Mr. EDM graduated in 2022 from the University of Medical Sciences, Carlos J. Finlay Camaguey, Cuba with a PhD in Medicine, while Mr. PMM earned a master’s degree in Energetic Mechanics from Abdelhamid Ibn Badis Mostaganem University in Algeria in 2015. They both led students’ movements, went on strike against the Congolese government which retaliated by threats and persecutions of all kinds, which forced them to flee from their country.
Another asylum seeker, HI, graduated from the Institute of Higher Commercial and Economic Studies of Haiti with a master’s degree in public finance and worked as a Government Finance Analyst at the Banque National of Haiti. After the assassination of the President Jovenel Moise in July 2021, the country entered a dark period of uncertainty and instability amid a general sense of national and international conspiracy and treason. Gang violence skyrocketed and installed an almost total insecurity which made him fly to the United States.
This synopsis or snapshot of the lives of these four refugees and asylum seekers departs clearly from a certain perception, deeply rooted among the Far-Right Groups in America, of asylum seekers as a herd of unfortunate people, aggressive invaders who owe their existence to the eleemosynary will of the taxpayer money. The reality is away far different. All these asylum seekers have one single aspiration in common. They are all yearning for a more dignifying situation with the possession of an Employment Authorization Document which would allow them to start working legally to sustain their families and be more beneficial to their communities and the whole American society. In fact, Tre, EDM, Mr PMM and HI come to join a Black immigrant community in Illinois, particularly dynamic and savant, participating with panache in the glooming of Abraham Lincoln home state. A report on the African Community in Illinois, UAO released last year states that:
- Africans, and their families are much younger than other Illinois residents. About 31 percent are children aged 0-17 years, compared with 23 percent of other Illinoisans.
- Africans are more likely to be in their prime working years: about 41 percent of Africans are aged 18-44 years, compared to 36 percent of other Illinoisans. Only about 7 percent of Africans are 65 years or older while 15 percent of other Illinois residents are 65 years or older.
- Africans are highly educated. About 46 percent have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to only 35 percent of non-Africans in Illinois.
- Africans are more likely to be in the labor force, to be employed, and to be self-employed. About 74 percent of Africans are “in the labor force,” meaning they are working or looking for work, compared with 65 percent of other Illinois residents.
- Africans are also more likely to be self-employed: about 8 percent of Africans are self-employed compared with 6 percent of other persons in Illinois.
In a highly insightful article published on Brookings Institute, politicians are playing politics with refugees but these workers are exactly what the us economy needs, Dany Bahar clearly shows that the American labor market and Economy are in dire need of these asylum seekers. He has confronted data from immigrants crossing the South border of the United States, mainly Venezuelans, to that of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. He came up with the fact that receiving states of the so sadly famous Texas buses like New York and Massachusetts have trends in labor market shortages matching exactly the profile of these asylum seekers. Most of them are highly skilled and possess the exact same competences these states need in their labor demand. Talking about Massachusetts also, it’s a fact that the future of its Higher Education deeply relies on Undocumented students. Lane Glenn, the president of Northern Essex Community College and Pavel Payano a state senator from Lawrence have clearly shown that in a recent article published on commonwealthmagazine.org, undocumented students are the key to our future but we’re not doing enough to support them.
At that time, nevertheless, some beasts in the political spectrum like Florida’s sulfurous Governor DeSantis Pushes Toughest Immigration Crackdown in the Nation, as New York Times publishes it this week. In his bombast bill proposal, De Santis, who epitomizes all the idiosyncrasies and foibles of Trump, and whose recondite core doctrinal line is made of portending, wangling, and gerrymandering, intends, simply to bar undocumented immigrants from resources or opportunities anybody living on this land qualifies for.
For everything I have vented above, it is my opinion that Black immigrants in Illinois, as in all the rest of the country, are not a burden but rather an opportunity and a blessing to America. Therefore, all immigration advocate movements, I believe, should come together to support the Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act, a recent legislative proposal in Congress which would, if passed, reduce the current 180-day waiting period for work authorization eligibility to 30 days, allowing asylum seekers to apply for authorization as soon as the asylum claim is filed.
by Khalifa Ababacar Diop
For Immediate Release
September 1, 2022
United African Organization releases new demographic and needs assessment study of the African Community in Illinois
New report reveals a large, growing and diverse community of more than 128,000 living in neighborhoods and cities across the state.
CHICAGO, IL (September 1, 2022) – As the Black immigrant and refugee community grows in Illinois, it is important to have an understanding of the basic characteristics and needs of the community. Having a profile of the community is the first step in developing responsive public and private programs and policies, and in educating the general public about their contributions.
According to the American Community Survey, 2015-2019, about 36 cities in Illinois have at least 500 African residents. The African population in Chicago is the largest at 47,277, followed by Evanston at 3,725 and Bolingbrook at 2,507. Most of the large African populations are in cities near Chicago, but many are in other parts of Illinois, such as Rock Island, Springfield and East Moline.
“This new report will inform our priorities in public policy advocacy, community organizing as well as designing innovative programs or expanding existing services to address community needs, including immigration, health, economic security, youth development, access to public benefits and many more,” said Nancy Asirifi-Otchere, Executive Director of the United African Organization (UAO).
“The report shows that we are the most educated immigrant population and our skills are central to the state’s labor force,” added Dr. Eustace Kaijage, UAO board member and Black immigrant who has called Illinois home for more than fifty years.
Key Characteristics of the African community in Illinois:
- Africans and their families are much younger than other Illinois residents. About 31 percent are children aged 0-17 years, compared with 23 percent of other Illinoisans.
Africans are more likely to be in their prime working years: about 41 percent of Africans are aged 18-44 years, compared to 36 percent of other Illinoisans. Only about 7 percent of Africans are 65 years or older while 15 percent of other Illinois residents are 65 years or older.
Africans are highly educated. About 46 percent have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to only 35 percent of non-Africans in Illinois.
Africans are more likely to be in the labor force, to be employed, and to be self-employed. About 74 percent of Africans are “in the labor force,” meaning they are working or looking for work, compared with 65 percent of other Illinois residents. Africans are also more likely to be self-employed: about 8 percent of Africans are self-employed compared with 6 percent of other persons in Illinois.
The jobs held by some fit the picture of persons doing some of the hardest and lowest-paying jobs in the service economy. The lives of these persons can be improved by supporting statewide efforts to improve wages and conditions for al lower-wage workers.
Some struggle with education credentials exemplified by the fact that many come here highly trained but can’t find work in their original careers. They often deal with the issue of under-employment.
Most African immigrants and refugees speak English very well. Only a relatively small portion – less than 2 percent – do not speak English at all, according to the American Community Survey. About 73 percent of Africans immigrants and refugees report that they speak English “very well” or that they speak only English.
United African Organization is a dynamic coalition of African community-based associations dedicated to social justice, civic participation, and empowerment of African immigrants and refugees in Illinois.
For more information, visit www.uniteafricans.org or call 312-949-9980
As African immigrants and refugees, we live and experience discrimination everyday of our lives. We believe it is time for change. We need a world where we are not judged by the color of our skin but by the content of our character.
Amidst our pain and anguish, we remain hopeful as we see young people of all races and ethnicity stepping up and speaking out to demand dignity for Black lives.
This moment presents an opportunity for the US to make radical and transformational changes at city, county, state and federal levels that curb police brutality and dismantle systemic racism.
As we mourn, we commit ourselves to organize and hold institutions of power accountable. And we remain resolute and relentless in the quest for justice and dignity.
Black Lives Matter!
Godfrey Chinomina, Board Chair
On January 31, 2020, the Trump administration issued a presidential proclamation that expands the Travel Ban to nationals of 6 new countries: Nigeria, Eritrea, Sudan, Tanzania, Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan. This is effective 12:01 am EST on February 21, 2020.
United African Organization Reaffirms Dignity of All Immigrants and Refugees Amid Racist Comments from White House
United African Organization condemns President Trump’s derogatory remarks yesterday about Black immigrants from Africa and Haiti as shocking and shameful. Once again, refugees and immigrants are faced with an attack on our basic dignity.
Nancy Asirifi-Otchere issued the following statement in response to yesterday’s offensive comments from the White House:
“Dismissing people from countries whose populations who are not white, as ‘not welcome’ is racist. Yesterday’s remarks from the White House do not represent American values and disrespects the humanity of millions of people.
We are disgusted by the president’s plan to use undocumented young people as bargaining chips to scrap current legal family-based immigration and the diversity visa program. These are some of the limited programs that allow Africans to make the US a new home.”
United African Organization stands with all marginalized communities and reaffirms the dignity of all immigrants and refugees. Additionally,
The Trump administration announced that they are ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The future of nearly a million young people are on the line. Since 2012, the DACA program has opened doors for employment, opportunities for education, and provided protection from deportation for beneficiaries. It’s up to us to act now.
Extension of DACA and Approval of DAPA by the Supreme Court
by Robert Giles, UAO Intern-2016
With President Obama’s executive action for the implementation of DAPA and the expanded DACA having been blocked and returned to the lower court due to a 4-4 split decision by the Supreme Court Justices, much is at stake regarding the upcoming presidential election and the future appointment of a 9th Justice. Many in the African immigrant communities will fully understand and appreciate the implications that such programs, or lack thereof, could possibly have on them and their families regarding temporary protection from deportation and newly permitted work authorization. With the recent deadlocked decision and the impending termination of the Obama Administration, there is much to be concerned about regarding the livelihoods of such immigrant families and the policies concerning deferred action that directly affect them.