Yesterday’s immigration rally in Washington, D.C., and the movement behind it have been propelled largely by Latino and Asian immigrants. But often missing from the conversation about immigration reform are the roughly 3 million immigrants of African descent. And their lack of visibility means their struggles with the immigration system  aren’t necessarily on Congress’ agenda. But Africans and Afro-Caribbeans in the Bay Area are part of a growing movement to influence the debate.

Adoubou Traore is the program director of the African Advocacy Network in San Francisco. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)
Adoubou Traore is the program director of the African Advocacy Network in San Francisco. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

From his cramped office in San Francisco’s Mission District, African Advocacy Network program Director Adoubou Traore helps new arrivals from Africa find jobs, housing and, not least of all, immigration solutions. But he’s not convinced legislation from Washington will help his clients much.

“Immigration reform is mostly targeting people who are undocumented,” Traore said.

But that leaves out quite a few people, including refugees, and people with what’s called temporary protected status, or TPS, from impoverished or war-torn countries such as Haiti, Somalia and Sudan.

“The fact is that were you on the TPS, you never become an American citizen. You never become a permanent resident. You never be able to reunify your family here,” Traore said. Then there are asylum seekers, like the man sitting across from Traore. Kevin, who because of his uncertain legal status doesn’t want to use his real name, fled civil war in his native Chad in 2009. When Kevin arrived in the United States, he was told his request for asylum would take two years to decide. Due to overburdened courts, it has now been almost four.

“The physical part or the financial part, I think everybody can mostly handle,” Kevin said. “But the mental part is hard. Imagine being here almost four years. You think you are gonna get everything tomorrow, or the next time you gonna see the judge. And every time they delay.”

Kevin said he has friends who have paid up to $18,000 to attorneys to try and navigate the complex asylum process. Advocates are calling on Congress to simplify that process and provide funding to deal with the backlog of cases.

At a town hall meeting hosted by East Bay congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland),  Nigerian immigrant Veronica Ufoegbune, president of the Anioma Tribal Association, described how Africans are at the mercy of a confusing system.

“Africans, as you can see, are totally on the bottom of the totem. We need you to reach out and make it comprehensive,” she told the congresswoman.

Lee said the Congressional Black Caucus hears the call and is working to influence political negotiations.

“We’re gonna stick together and make sure that immigrants of African descent or Caribbean descent from all over the world are included as part of this,” she said.

Adoubou Traore (left) marches with about 1,000 people in San Francisco on a national day of action, to support a comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)
Adoubou Traore (left) marches with about 1,000 people in San Francisco on a national day of action, to support a comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

So what would African-friendly immigration reform look like? It might include eliminating the requirement to apply for asylum within  one year of arrival. Speeding up family reunification. Creating a path to citizenship for those with temporary protected status.

But Joe Guzzardi, senior writing fellow with Californians for Population Stabilization, a group that believes immigration levels are too high, said streamlining the process for asylum seekers or refugees could be a hard sell in Congress.

“Those are particularly tough issues because of the kind of history of fraud and the documented unreliability of some of the claims that are made for that status,” he said.

Nunu Kidane, director of the Priority Africa Network in Oakland, said African and Afro-Caribbean immigrants are beginning to command attention. In March, a coalition of African immigrant groups organized a rally on Capitol Hill.

“It was unprecedented. Even if it had been 100 people instead of 400, I would have been very pleased,” said Kidane, adding that it was the fruit of years of difficult organizing across national, ethnic and language boundaries.

“It brought into a common platform groups that did not even know they existed, let alone to work together. So, you had the Cameroonians working with the Ugandans, working with the Nigerians, and you’ve people from Belize and Afro-Latinos and African-Americans, and people from Nigeria, who actually had to sit together.”

Those groups were out again yesterday, on the lawn of the Capitol, alongside thousands of other immigrant advocates. Whether or not they’ve come together in time to influence current legislation remains to be seen.

Listen to the audio version of this report:

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dave-Francis/100003689645540 Dave Francis

    What a bunch of piffle? Any poll can alter the attitude of the voting public, if the wording is craftily engineered? I only trust the Rasmussen Reports, and that is NOT what “THE PEOPLE” said? Incidentally this gang of eight should read the thousands of comments published in the unbiased media and not just the mainstream Liberal press, because they dote over the Socialist and Progressives, who are out to destroy our liberties. From what I have read only about 5 percent insist on a Path to Citizenship and a pretty large majority think they should be deported. One thing’s for sure they are not going to be protected, when it’s time for reelection? Further, no new laws to make illegal aliens comfortable should be passed, until the REAL fences should be built, from one California to Texas, with only breaks for ports of entry. Those only children of a U.S. citizen should be able to claim citizenship. That business who use illegal alien labor, should get a mandatory prison term. That America desperately needs a federal biometric card to stop illegal aliens being hired, instead of the 20 million or more Americans jobless. Sign the pro-sovereignty petition at NumbersUSA, to stop this travesty of our laws. Waiting now for the release of the Heritage Foundation cost survey, as I am sure it’s going to be a eye-opener to its original payout for supporting illegal aliens as $2.6 TRILLION dollars. Read the daily news, reports and blogs, hidden by the Liberal media at American Patrol website.

  • denise gums

    Wow Really Great work on this issue

  • Naija Queen

    Great to be heard…the struggle continues!

  • jayedigin

    Really great, will like to suport this, it is unprecedented.

Author

Andrew Stelzer

Andrew Stelzer has been reporting for KQED since 2010.  His work has been featured on programs including NPR’s Weekend EditionPRI’s The World, Studio 360, Marketplace,Living on Earth, On the MediaLatino USA, Radio Netherlands, World Radio Switzerland, and Radio France International. He also works as a producer at Making Contact in Oakland. Andrew has written publications including for In These Times, The Progressive,  Interpress Service, The St. Petersburg Times, and The East Bay Express.

Andrew’s work has received numerous awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

From 2004-2006, he was the senior reporter and anchor at  WMNF radio in Tampa, FL.  From 2001-2004 he was  based out of KBOO community radio in Portland, Oregon, where he also worked as KBOO’s youth advocate, supervising the stations’ youth collective. Andrew has conducted radio production trainings in Algiers, Algeria; Bolivia; Southern Jordan; Mexico; New Orleans; Tampa; Hattiesburg, Mississippi; Immokalee, FL; and Portland, OR.

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