Black Immigrant Lives Are Under Attack

File photo of an individual detained at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in Tacoma, Wash. (AP Images)

Every single aspect of the immigration system is nasty, but the U.S. makes it especially nasty if you’re Black

There’s no question that the same systemic racism endemic to the police, is woven through our immigration system. That racism impacts Black immigrants the hardest in the form of unusual and cruel punishments that go far beyond the hardships already heaped on immigrants in this country. At RAICES, we’ve heard firsthand accounts, reviewed our internal data, spoken with legal experts, and brought together existing research to produce this comprehensive portrait of the issues facing Black immigrants and asylum seekers in the United States today. We hope it’s a launching point for more reflection, conversations and vital changes to our archaic and unjust immigration system.

Haitians impacted by family detention

In the midst of a pandemic, dozens of families continue to be locked up and torn apart by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). There have been a few horrified headlines, but one specific aspect of family detention in 2020 has been greatly underreported: almost half of the families currently locked up by ICE are Haitian. From January to March this year, 29% of families detained at the Karnes County Residential Center were Haitian, according to tracking by RAICES. But as the COVID-19 pandemic progressed and some families were released by ICE, the share of Haitian families in detention increased to an alarming 44% of the total. In fact, the U.S. has consistently detained more Haitian families in 2020 than any other nationality.

Freedom is more expensive for Black immigrants

Not only are Haitian families being detained more often, but ICE also makes it more difficult for them to be released. Take the bond system, for example, which allows some immigrants in detention to be released if they can pay ICE thousands of dollars. RAICES has a dedicated fund to help immigrants pay for these bonds so they don’t have to be locked up while an immigration judge decides on their case. When RAICES looked through data on bonds it has paid by nationality, it discovered that Haitian immigrants pay much higher bonds than other immigrants in detention. Between June 2018 and June 2020, the average bond paid by RAICES was a whopping $10,500. But bonds paid for Haitian immigrants by RAICES averaged $16,700, 54% higher than for other immigrants. The result: Black immigrants stay in ICE jails longer because of the massive disparity in their bonds.

Black immigrants face greater risks for deportation

Black immigrants are also significantly more likely to be targeted for deportation. While 7% of non-citizens in the U.S. are Black, they make up a full 20% of those facing deportation on criminal grounds, according to Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI). And that happens despite there being no evidence that Black immigrants commit crime at greater rates than other immigrants or U.S-citizens. So why do so many more Black immigrants get labeled as criminals?

Immigrants are exposed to more risks and vulnerability when they are stopped by the police for minor offenses, such as broken tail lights and traffic violations

As Black communities struggle with the rate of over-policing and the high risk of conviction even for minor offenses, these disparities can spill over into the immigration detention system. For example, The Open Policing Project at Stanford University analyzed 93 million traffic stops from 21 state patrol agencies and 29 municipal police departments between the years of 2001 and 2017. The study concluded that, on average, Black drivers are 20% more likely to get pulled over than white drivers. Because of policies like the 287(g) program, which enables local law enforcement to transfer immigrants they detain to ICE custody, the over-policing of Black people means more Black immigrants end up in ICE’s hands, many slated for deportation because of minor offenses. Black communities all over the country suffer over-policing, and these disparities are inevitably spilling over into the immigration detention system.

ICE locks up Black immigrants in solitary confinement more often

Immigrant detention is a horrible, dehumanizing experience for everyone. But ICE makes it even worse for Black immigrants. While immigrants from Africa or the Caribbean made up about 4% of people in ICE detention from 2012 to 2017, they represented 24% of all solitary confinement lockups over that time, according to a study by researchers Franco, Patler, and Reiter. This means Black immigrants are six times more likely to be sent to solitary confinement. “The treatment of Black immigrants in detention mirrors that of Black individuals in jails and prisons,” Keramet Reiter, a University of California, Irvine professor and a co-author of the study told ICIJ. To learn more about the reality faced by Black immigrants in detention, view our prerecorded Livestream on the topic.

Black immigrants face highest asylum rejection rates

Many Black immigrants who come to the United States are asking for help and protection, so they seek asylum here. But yet again, Black immigrants face higher barriers here too. Among the 10 nationalities with the most asylum decisions from 2012-2017, Haitians had the second-highest denial rate at 87%. In the years before that period, Jamaicans had the highest asylum denial rate. Somalians also had one of the highest asylum denial rates in the same time period. In 2017, Somalians also experienced the highest rate of deportations, according to the American Bar Association.

You can help

Just like in other areas of law, Black immigrants face more obstacles and increasing challenges when compared to other groups. We’re bringing light to these disparities because our legal team works with immigrants and asylum seekers to liberate them from detention and keep families together and we know that asylum seekers are five times more likely to win their asylum case if they have an attorney. Our legal team has seen firsthand that the immigration movement and the movement for Black lives are inextricably intertwined. Earlier this month RAICES assisted in the release of an asylum seeker from Cameroon that had been locked up for three months. The scene below shows him reuniting with his family. This is a moment that all Black immigrants and asylum seekers deserve. You can help immigrants escape the horrors of immigration detention by donating to RAICES today.

Stephane and his sister, Audrey, reunite in Houston, Texas after almost a decade apart.

A note about Black immigrants beyond Africa and the Caribbean

Many of the findings on this page rely on data obtained from ICE though Freedom of Information Act requests.

Unfortunately ICE only tracks deportations by country of origin, not by race or ethnicity. This means researchers often only include people from majority Black countries in their definition of “Black immigrants”. We hope future data is able to distinguish Black immigrants from all countries.