By Chioma Oruh
As a first generation, naturalized American, I completely understand the experiences of DREAMers. I came to the United States when I was 9 years old from Nigeria. I stood with my father and two older brothers in incredibly long lines at the US embassy in Lagos, Nigeria seeking a visa to come to the US to join our mother who came to this country on a work permit.
My mother left Nigeria because of the unstable economy caused by the recent coup d’etat by General Ibrahim Babangida to overthrow General Muhammadu Buhari. I remember the long conversations my parents would have with each other prior to her leaving. A few weeks before leaving Nigeria, the teachers decided to go on strike because of low wages, remaining on strike several weeks after we left for the United States. I also remember, when leaving, we could never return to such an unhealthy and unstable political climate. My father, a proud and accomplished African man, had to justify his worth to the Consular officer by virtue of being a parent and having no malicious intent towards wanting to reunite his wife with her family. There were prayers and celebrations after several visits to the US embassy finally resulted in a temporary visa – a process we would repeat when we returned to Nigeria a few years later in 1992 to complete our Green Card application. Pride and accomplishment swelled in my heart when we were sworn in as US citizens in 2000, years after working and contributing to the American economy.
I know that my happy ending is a rare accomplishment for many black immigrants that venture to the US seeking the American dream. While we share in this burden with many other immigrant groups. Most DREAMers are from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatamala, and Honduras, and the largest number are living in California, but there are close to half -million black immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America that are left out of the immigration reform movement. For example, in 2016, Black Lives Matter co-founder Opal Tometi, a first generation Nigerian-American, wrote an article about President Obama Administration’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policy to expedite the deportation of nearly 3,000 Haitian migrants seeking asylum who sought entry through the US-Mexico border as a result of the 2010 earthquake crisis that left the country’s economy devastated. While President Obama received lots of criticism for this policy impacting Haitian refugees and other shortcomings of the historic policies that marginalize immigrants, it is to his credit that DACA now exists.
No previous presidency compares to the daily terror many US immigrant populations live with under President Trump’s regime. His inconsistent position on DACA and the ultimate recent commitment to end the program “if Congress can’t fix it in 6 months” are small, but mighty parts of the many offensive statements and executive orders that impact the lives of many immigrant groups. Living in Washington, DC, where part of our city’s values is being a proud sanctuary city, our Mayor and educational leaders declared school grounds as safe zones so parents can drop off and pick up their children without fear of being detained by ICE. Yet these policies do not cover all jurisdictions and in Washington, DC, being the nation’s capital and not being a state, much of our sovereignty is compromised by our unhealthy relationship with the Federal government. Ultimately, no undocumented immigrant is fully safe in a city where there are many mine fields of pockets of space that are strictly federal jurisdiction that allow ICE to legally detain undocumented workers and parents without regard to local law.
I agree there needs to be immigration reform that considers the primary benefactors of the country, US citizens, it is impossible to have a balanced conversation around the impact of immigration on labor, education and national security without the cloud of xenophobia that has new life in the highest seat of power in the nation.
Truth be told the fascism that informed my family’s migration is a shared experience by many other immigrant groups from the Third World, and is now common practice since President Trump was sworn in January 2017. Maybe his policies and hostile practices will lead many Americans to relocate just as my family did. If this is the case, may they seek and find empathy and welcome in their chosen countries; may they never be treated the way those that come to US are denigrated as alien and deemed less than worthy of consideration due to their migrant status.