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Three Things You Should Know … Black Immigration

Here are three things you should know about recent Black immigration.

The horrors of the transatlantic slave trade forced Black individuals to come to America in the 16th century. But black migration is a relatively new development – and has increased fivefold over the past few decades. Nearly half (45%) of America’s recent black immigrants arrived in the U.S. in 2000 or later, with 24% saying they arrived sometime in 2006 or later, according to the Pew Research Center analysis.

Recent Black immigration is driven in large part by many of the same forces that brought other immigrants to this country—pursuing education, safety, economic opportunity, or following the path of family members who came before them.

Whether drawn by force, choice, or necessity, Black immigrants have strong, rich — and painful — roots in this country. And their growing numbers over the past two decades add to the Black community’s diversity and vibrancy. But, though the Black community is becoming more diverse, the African American experience is also becoming the universal, shared experience of all Black people—including the outrage shared by so many people after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

1. The Black immigrant population has increased fivefold since 1980.

Voluntary (non-slave related) Black immigration to the US is a relatively new development and one that has rapidly increased since the 1980s. There were 4.2 million black immigrants living in the U.S. in 2016, up from just 816,000 in 1980, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. Since 2000 alone, the number of black immigrants living in the country has risen 71%.

Today, Black migration stems from a variety of reasons, such as refugee/home country conflict, work and education, diversity lottery visa recipients, and family reunification. A number of immigration-centered policies, beginning in the 1960s, loosened restrictions on entry to the U.S. and resulted in the growth of Black migration of the past decades. For example, the Refugee Act of 1980, signed by President Jimmy Carter, raised the annual ceiling for refugees from 17,400 to 50,000 and created a process of reviewing and adjusting the refugee ceiling to meet emergencies. Before this Act, less than 1% of U.S. refugee arrivals were from Africa, compared to the 37% in 2016.

2. African immigration doubled in the last decade.

Much of the recent growth in the foreign-born black population has been fueled by immigrants from Africa. Between 2000 and 2016, the African immigrant population more than doubled, from 574,000 to 1.6 million. Up from 24% in 2000, Africans now make up 39% of the overall foreign-born black population.

Still, roughly half of all foreign-born blacks living in the U.S. in 2016 (49%) were from the Caribbean, with Jamaica and Haiti being the largest source countries. Black immigrants from the Caribbean generally have lived in the U.S. longer. Black immigrants from Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic increasingly began moving to the U.S. in the 1960s. Nearly 42% of Caribbean immigrants arrived in the U.S. before 1990, while just 18% arrived in 2006 or later.

3. “Double Punishment” of being Black and an immigrant.

Black immigrants face disproportionate hardships because of their immigration status and the color of their skin. According to a 2016 report by the NYU Immigrant Rights Clinic and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, only about 7% of non-citizens in the U.S. are Black, yet they make up 20% of people facing deportation on criminal grounds. Research has  repeatedly shown that the criminal justice system acts as a funnel into the immigration system. Black individuals in the United States are more likely to be stopped, arrested and incarcerated by the police, leaving Black immigrants disproportionately vulnerable to deportation. In fact, most immigration-related apprehensions nationwide occur inside jails.

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