The Common Good

Don’t Leave People of African Descent Out of the Immigration Debate

When I hear or read hateful comments about immigration, it sends pains through my heart. I’ve heard friends, family and co-workers make horrendous statements about immigrants. The comments are often laced with derogatory tones followed by comments that show a disdain for immigrants. I actually think I’m being too kind when I say that they speak about immigrants. In all actuality, the characterization is much more dehumanizing. They call immigrants “illegal aliens” or “those people.”

When others make those comments to me I guess they feel they are in safe company, but little do they know, my father is an immigrant. When I speak up, they are in shock.

“Oh, I was wondering about your last name,” they respond.

My father immigrated to the United States in the 1970s to receive an education. He received a bachelors and masters degree in architecture. He was a hardworking man who came to the United States to build a life for himself and his family. My mother told me how he worked 2-3 jobs at a time to provide for his family. My father just wanted a chance to succeed. 

After marrying my mother and having two children, my father thought he would have a chance to remain in America and raise his family. He saw America as the land of opportunity. However, he soon found out that the doors of America were wide open for some and closed for others. He found that for him and others they read, “YOU ARE NOT WELCOME.” I’m sure my father thought that his two degrees, wife, and children gave him an all-access pass, but he soon found out that did not matter. He was from Nigeria. 

My father immigrated to the States on a student visa. When his visa expired, he was expected to depart. He was not able to receive a permanent visa or green card, but he stayed anyway. He tried desperately to comply with the immigration laws to stay legally, but the doors were slammed in his face. I know many people would call my father an “illegal alien,” but he is not. He is a father, grandfather, husband, uncle, and friend. He is a hardworking, disciplined man who just wanted a fair chance just like every other immigrant. 

Many people like to point out that people should just do things the “right way.” While I agree with the premise of this statement, the likelihood of success for many people of color is slim to none. The reality is that people of African descent are not always given the same opportunities as those from other countries. America gladly welcomes some and shuns others. I have many friends who have tried to apply just to visit the United States and they are treated more like criminals than the wonderful people they are. They know that it will take an act of God for them to receive any type of visa to come to the United States. 

While Hispanic Americans are at the forefront of the immigration debate, many other ethnic groups have been affected by our flawed immigration system. When Congress is debating immigration reform, people from African descent should not be left out of the conversation. The current visa policy in the Senate bill is a merit-based visa, which favors men and women from Europe and other parts of the world — but diversity visas are the largest source of African and Caribbean immigration. Unless people of color are invited to the table, once again people of color will be excluded from our piece of the American pie. 

I have been afforded many opportunities in the United States, but nothing compares to living life without my father. He was forced to leave this country when I was just a baby and I have not seen him since. Immigration is not simply a political issue, but a policy concern that affects individuals and families. I dream of a country and an immigration policy where all ethnic groups from all countries will have an equal and fair chance to immigrate to the United States. 

Carmille Akande is a licensed attorney and minister who spends her time visiting prisons, homeless shelters, hospitals, and nursing homes sharing the love of Jesus. Carmille blogs at carmilleakande.com and you can follow her on Twitter @CarmilleAkande.

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