United African Organization

Immigration at a Climax: An Existential Lesson for the Nation

April 30, 2023AdminAdvocacy, Blog

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

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