The Untold Story of Deportation of Black Immigrants


The national spotlight typically isn’t focused on black immigrants from African and Caribbean countries. In the conversation about deportation, it’s often exclusively portrayed as a Latino issue.

Last month, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency quietly deported dozens of African immigrants who were trying to seek asylum in the United States.

Sixty-three men who were unable to secure visas to stay in the country legally on humanitarian relief claims, according to a source within ICE who spoke to ThinkProgress on condition of anonymity. Activists who spoke with deported individuals said they were sent back to Nigeria, Ghana, and Senegal.

Immigration activists believe that number may be closer to 90. They also say many of these men shouldn’t have been targeted by ICE in the first place because they had already passed their credible fear interviews — a preliminary step in the asylum process to determine whether immigrants would be placed in grave danger if they’re returned to their home countries.

Some lawyers say that black immigrants have the odds stacked against them in the immigration court system. ICE generally requires immigrants to have a sponsor who’s a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident. The agency also has stringent requirements for identity documents, which is problematic for immigrants from countries like Somalia where the government didn’t always have the ability to issue those documents, according to Jessica Shulruff Schneider, a supervising attorney at the Americans for Immigrant Justice.

“Many of the individuals that are Africans don’t have close family members or friends to assist them from the outside,” said Shulruff Schneider. “It makes it virtually impossible to fight your case.”

One man deported back to Ghana, who asked for his name not to be published, did have that kind of support. He had a sponsor in the United States ready to take him in. Nonetheless, an immigration judge threw out his asylum claims and deported him from the Krome Detention Center in Miami, Florida.

But deportation is part of the reality of the black immigrant experience. According to forthcoming report by the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) and New York University Law School’s Immigrants Rights Clinic, black immigrants make up 7 percent of the total immigrant population (roughly 3.4 million people) and 10.6 percent of all immigrants in removal proceedings between 2003 and 2015. In the 2014 fiscal year, the ICE agency deported 1,203 African immigrants.

“One of the challenges that we at BAJI face in our work is that black immigrants from Africa and the Carribean, are largely ‘invisible-lized’ in the public’s consciousness, so the face of the immigrant is often a Latino face,” Carl Lipscombe, policy and legal manager at Black Alliance for Just Immigration, told ThinkProgress. “Largely these immigrants are in deportation proceedings as a result of a criminal conviction, or some sort of criminal contact. And that can be anything from possession of a small amount of marijuana to petty larceny, some sort of theft of something of little value. Any of those types of offenses can result in someone being detained or deported.”