How interning for a Black African-led immigrants’ rights organization reinforced my conviction that we need to do more for Black immigrants

My name is Zefitret Abera Molla and I am a second-year student in the Master’s in Migration Studies program at the University of San Francisco. This program has given me access to different opportunities, such as studying abroad at Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City (one of the oldest Jesuit institutions in Mexico), conducting fieldwork interviewing African and Haitian migrants in Tijuana for my master’s thesis through a travel grant, working as a graduate student assistant on a research project on women and Catholic Social Thought and interning at the African Advocacy Network (AAN). AAN is one of the few Black African-led immigrants’ rights organization in the San Francisco Bay Area that provides a wide range of services to Black African and Afro-Caribbean immigrants in the diaspora.

Before relocating from San Antonio, Texas to San Francisco in August 2019 to start my master’s program, I was looking for a Black and/or African immigrants’ rights association I could intern with for the fall semester. I wanted to use the internship opportunity to conduct pre-research on African and Afro-Caribbean migration to the United States, since my research focuses on the experiences of those currently stranded in Mexico because of restrictive U.S. and Mexican immigration policies. As the only Black-led African immigrants’ rights organization in the Bay Area, AAN caught my attention right away. AAN provides immigration legal services, case management and social integration services to African and Afro-Caribbean immigrants in the San Francisco Bay Area.

As an intern, I assisted the staff with different tasks such as conducting country conditions research on the asylum-seekers’ countries of origin; provided French-English translation of supporting documents such as declarations for asylum applications, birth certificates; assisted the organization with its social media presence; and attended meetings with local and state stakeholders on issues ranging from language access for immigrants to the 2020 census coalition, among other things.

This internship allowed me to gain a better understanding of African and Afro-Caribbean migration to the US and it also gave me the opportunity to understand how an African and Afro-Caribbean migrants’-based organization works in the Bay Area. I always enjoyed the discussions I had with AAN staff, who always made me feel welcome and treated me not as an intern but as part of the team. I accompanied the director, Mr Adoubou Traore on several city and state immigrants’ rights meetings, such as Affirmative Relief and DACA grantee meetings. These meetings were one of my favorite parts of the internship experience, seeing first-hand how different organizations collaborated to defend immigrants’ rights on the local and national level was eye-opening. However, I couldn’t help but notice that in these meetings AAN was always the only immigrants’ rights organization specifically working with African and Afro-Caribbean immigrants in San Francisco. It confirmed to me that AAN was important not only because it had the cultural and linguistic competencies to provide services to African and Afro-Caribbean immigrants in the area, but it was also, unfortunately, the only organization present to defend their specific interests at these meetings. In the last four decades the number of Black immigrants in the US has significantly risen, they now account for almost 10% of the US’ foreign-born population. Furthermore, despite Africans being one of the fastest growing immigrant groups in the US, they’re often invisible in immigration discourse. Conversations on US immigration are centered around Latinos or Asians, which in turn leaves Black immigrants’ interests unaccounted for when immigration policies are being created and negotiated. They are largely absent from the mainstream and media representation of immigrants; simply put Black immigrants have been rendered invisible. This is in part due to their intersecting identities, being racially Black and ethnically foreign. Black immigrants in the US face discrimination due their race, but they’re usually assumed to be US citizens and their citizenship status is rarely contested. This complex system has important consequences for Black African and Afro-Caribbean immigrants, who grapple with both identities. They face discrimination for both of their identities. On one hand they are affected by policies that target African Americans while on the other hand they are also affected by policies that target immigrants as a whole.

The intersecting identities of Black immigrants puts them at a disadvantage, which is why it’s important to recognize the intersection of both identities and what it entails. Black immigrants are their own group, with two intersecting identities, their interests can only be fully represented by organizations that lobby specifically for the rights of Black immigrants. For all the reasons mentioned above, more Black African and/or Afro-Caribbean-led immigrant organizations that provide services for Black immigrants and lobby for policies benefiting them should be created.

Studies have shown that organizations such as the African Advocacy Network, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, the Haitian Bridge Alliance, the Ethiopian and Eritrean Community Center, are culturally competent to provide services to Black immigrants and have the necessary language skills as well. In addition, their understanding of the intersecting identities of Black immigrants, makes them ideal to lobby for the rights of Black African and Afro-Caribbean immigrants. These organizations are important for the African and Afro-Caribbean community, now more than ever before, due to our current political climate. I argue that we should not only encourage their creation, but should advance local and state resources to them, so they can continue to serve and defend the interests of these communities.

If you are interested in learning more about the African Advocacy Network, here is a link to their website https://www.aansf.org. You can also find them on Facebook at African Advocacy Network.

By Zefitret Abera Molla

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