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Fighting erasure: Panelists advocate for Black immigrants

National conference brings issues to light

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

After working on the farm all day, a woman in Cameroon gathers firewood to cook the evening meal. (Photo by Valéry Nodem)

LOUISVILLE — A national immigration conference provided a forum on Saturday to highlight the concerns of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers who are Black.

It’s important to speak out, or “we will not only be forgotten, we will be erased,” said Guerline Jozef, co-founder and executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, a U.S.-based nonprofit that advocates for fair and humane immigration policies.

The panel discussion, “Centering Black Migrant Voices,” was part of a weekend conference, “Together We Welcome: A National Faith Gathering to Strengthen Support for Refugees, Immigrants and Migrants.”

Church World Service (CWS) hosted the conference with support from partners including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Educational sessions on various topics, including resettlement, climate change and trauma, were offered to help train and equip faith leaders, community organizers and immigrant community leaders on welcoming refugees, asylum seekers and other displaced people.

Guerline Jozef

Jozef, one of three panelists, raised concerns about reports that people of color in Ukraine have been prevented from getting on trains to escape the Russian invasion. “Even in the war, even when protection is needed for all people, when it comes to Black people, our lives do not deserve protection,” she said.

She also called for an end to problematic U.S. immigration policies and practices, such as deportations to Haiti; Title 42, a policy from the Trump era that’s used to expel immigrants and has been only partially limited by the courts; and Migrant Protection Protocols (sometimes called the “Remain in Mexico” program).

“People cannot remain in Mexico, especially Black immigrants cannot remain in Mexico because, I can tell you, from Jan. 1 to last week, we have buried six Haitians in Tijuana, so there is no safe space for Black people in Mexico,” said Jozef, co-founder of the Black Immigrants Bail Fund, which provides free assistance to Black immigrants.

Jozef also spoke of the need for broader awarding of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which certain Ukrainians in this country are eligible for. “We need to have TPS for Cameroon,” she said.

Sylvia Nyamuhungu

Some panelists and moderator Sylvia Nyamuhungu, refugee community organizer for CWS, also talked about some of the misconceptions that Blacks from places like Haiti and Cameroon encounter in this country.

“A lot of us when we’re fleeing and we’re on the border or we’re coming in this country, we’re not just doing it because we want a vacation somewhere or because we want to come and take advantage of the resources here,” Nyamuhungu said. “It’s because we are being forced to.”

Reasons include natural disasters, such as earthquakes, as well as violence, unrest, abuse and corruption.

The Rev. Daniel Ulysse, a Baptist minister involved in advocacy for Haitians, criticized the U.S. government for supporting leaders like the late Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, whose oppressive regime prompted Haitians to flee to the United States in droves.

Haiti last year following an earthquake. (Photo by Tijo Conseillant)

“They need to stop supporting criminal dictators in Haiti and Africa,” Ulysse said of the U.S. government.

Ulysse also decried Haitians being labeled as AIDS carriers in years past and how that led to protests. “It’s important to organize,” and to vote, he said.

Benson Njugana, an asylum seeker in the United States, shared personal stories of advocating for himself and others while being detained for several months. He also talked about the need to revise federal law so that immigration authorities don’t have so much discretion when it comes to things like humanitarian parole.

“When you have an ambiguous law, then it’s no law at all,” Njugana said.

Read other Presbyterian News Service reports from the Together We Welcome Conference here and here.

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