The mass brutalization and verbal abuse seen against primarily Haitian migrants crossing the US border in recent weeks has placed them at the center of immigration reform conversations.

But migration policy experts and advocates tell Insider, Black immigrants’ movement through the US southern border is a small fraction of the avenue they use to stay in the country.

The Black immigrant population in the United States is roughly 4 million, with Jamaicans and Haitians being the most common nationality at 17% each. According to the Pew Research Center, 54% of all foreign-born, Black people in the US hold citizenship.

Insider spoke with attorneys and Black immigrant groups fighting back against what they say is a US immigration system that has always been rooted in anti-Blackness.

Black immigrants migration to the US

Black immigrants began migrating to the US, particularly from the Caribbean, for labor jobs at the turn of the 20th century. Many more came after the Immigration Act of 1968, with an upward trend in African migrants arriving beginning in the early 90’s.

According to Pew Research Center, 84% of Black immigrants are living in the US legally. Of the 16% who aren’t, they make up just 7% of the overall undocumented population.

Despite this fact, 20% of deported people are Black, according to The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.

The exclusionary foundation of immigration laws

The origins of US immigration law has been tied by academics to Fugitive Slave Laws that were enacted at a state level across the country. Leading up to the Civil War, experts say, there was an institutional effort to control the movement of former Black slaves.

“From the beginning, race had everything to do with who belonged in the United States and was a significant driver of these concepts of citizenship and immigration,” Alina Das, author of No Justice In The Shadows: How America Criminalizes Immigrants, told New America last year.


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