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African immigrants in the U.S. and Europe

Discrimination, repression and struggle against world imperialism

Published May 1, 2010 7:33 AM

This year’s May Day commemorations are taking place amid escalating racist and xenophobic attacks against immigrant communities in the U.S. and Western Europe. The passage of an Arizona law that legalizes racial profiling, and the electoral campaigns by right-wing, anti-immigrant parties in Hungary, France, Italy and the Netherlands, illustrate the need to intensify efforts at building international solidarity among workers and the oppressed.

These attacks against immigrant communities coincide with the burgeoning economic crisis, which has resulted in massive layoffs of millions of workers of all nationalities and worsening social conditions in both the industrialized and underdeveloped states. The decline of the capitalist system has been characterized by massive bank bailouts, plant closings, shrinking of the public sector, budget cuts, denial of health care and the privatization of education. It has intensified the assaults on trade unions, the poor, people of color, women, lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer people and other historically exploited and marginalized groups.

The immigrant rights struggle in the U.S. led to the revival of May Day in 2006. Millions of workers, led by the Latino/a communities throughout the country, challenged unjust policies that scapegoat the immigrant population, both documented and undocumented.

The conditions for immigrants of African descent, like the Latino/a communities, have been precarious in both the United States and Europe. Discrimination and repression leveled against African immigrants cannot be separated from the legacy of racism and national oppression against Black people in the U.S., who are ostensibly “citizens” of the country. This same contradiction also exists in Europe — where the conditions of immigrants must be viewed within the context of the ongoing subordinate position of people of color, who are supposed to be protected under the laws governing the various states.

African immigrants face racism in U.S.

Over the last several decades there has been a significant increase in the number of immigrants from the Caribbean and the African continent living inside the United States. Nonetheless, there was a decline in the number of Caribbean nationals who were granted naturalized citizenship during 2009. In 2008 some 131,935 people from the Caribbean gained citizenship in the U.S., in comparison to a significant decline to 84,917 in 2009. (Caribbeanworldnews.com, April 23)

This reduction in the number of people from the Caribbean becoming citizens follows a broader pattern. In 2008 some 1,046,539 overall became naturalized, while in 2009, there were only 743,715.

It is not surprising that Cuban immigrants topped the list of those from the Caribbean becoming naturalized, with 24,891. The U.S. has favored and even encouraged immigration from Cuba in the five-decades-long destabilization campaign against the island’s socialist government. But even the number of Cubans being given citizenship declined from the 39,871 who became naturalized in 2008.

The group showing an increase in naturalization is nationals from the African continent. They face discrimination and racism in the U.S.

Several years ago Laurier T. Raymond Jr., the mayor of Lewiston, Maine, stated publicly that the Somali immigrant community should look elsewhere to live. Raymond voiced sentiments of the largely white city that the presence of immigrants from East Africa would adversely impact the living standards and culture of the broader community.

Jonathan Rogers, a Portland, Maine, resident, stated: “Can you imagine a city mayor turning away hoards of new residents and their contributions to the local economy in today’s economic climate? Mayor Raymond wasn’t alone, however. Many Mainers still harbor a sentiment of distrust, disapproval and hostility toward unfamiliar immigrants.” (Portland Press Herald, April 14)

“Xenophobia can make you believe all sorts of things; that these new families are a drag on the economy, that they all live in public housing and are unemployed or that the low-income neighborhoods they may inhabit are the most crime-ridden in town.”

Rogers encourages people to “take a tour of the neighborhoods with public housing developments in Portland, many of which are home to Somalis and other East African families. Compared to areas of similar income, you will find stronger communities, more thriving social networks and more civic-minded people there than anywhere else in the city.”

The World Bank estimates that “African immigrants living abroad mostly in North America and Europe send home between $32 and $40 billion every year. This figure far exceeds the money that is given to Africa through formalized development aid channels.” (Modern Ghana News, April 5)

Despite the constructive role played by African immigrants in the U.S., numerous cases have been reported of African immigrants being harassed, brutalized and murdered by law enforcement.

The Somali community in Minneapolis has been targeted as suspects in the so-called “war on terrorism.” During President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009, the FBI questioned Somali student activists about an alleged plot to assassinate the president. Mosques frequented by Somalis have been infiltrated by government informants and recently there have been reports in the corporate media claiming that youth are being recruited to fight against the U.S.-backed Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu.

Plight of African immigrants in Europe

Because of the impact of the world economic crisis on the African continent, many workers and youth have fled as refugees to Europe in search of employment and a higher standard of living. These workers have been subjected to gross discrimination and violence from various European governments as well as racist vigilantes.

This anti-immigrant bias has been reflected in the electoral campaigns of various right-wing political parties who have openly advocated reprisals targeting African workers who seek asylum in European states. In Hungary in April, the right-wing Jobbik party gained 16 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections.

The same sentiment is reflected in France with the growth of the racist National Front Party, and in the Netherlands, where the Party of Freedom enjoyed gains in the recent elections. In Italy the anti-immigrant Northern League has openly spread racist sentiment against workers from Africa and other parts of the world.

In January in a town in southern Italy, two African immigrant workers were shot when air guns were fired from a moving vehicle. The incident sparked mass demonstrations and a rebellion. Workers took to the streets demanding that they be treated like human beings.

The rise in racism in Europe is closely linked with the deepening economic crisis within the Western capitalist states. Deutsche Welle reports that, “Although right-wing ideology takes different forms across Europe, it shares a common strategy: exploiting the fears of voters in times of crisis.

“Right-wing populists focus on their followers’ discontent, says Wolfgang Kapust of German public broadcaster WDR. ‘They offer easy answers to complicated problems: the economic situation, unemployment or social insecurity,’ said Kapust. ‘Above all, they want to get rid of, deport or “send home” foreigners and “the others.”’” (April 12)

Workers have no borders

Inside the United States it is important that labor organizers and anti-racist and civil rights groups condemn acts of discrimination and violence against immigrant workers. These attacks are not just directed against the foreign-born and their descendants but are designed to weaken and intimidate the working class and the nationally oppressed as a whole.

The emergence of the so-called “Tea Party” movement in the U.S. represents another manifestation of an age-old phenomenon: ruling-class attempts to divide and conquer the working class and the oppressed. These angry workers and displaced middle-class whites are being encouraged by sections of the capitalist class to attack immigrants, African-Americans, Latinos/as, women, the LGBTQ communities, unions and all progressive forces.

In fostering international solidarity with immigrant workers, progressive forces inside the U.S. and Europe can build a united front against a potentially dangerous neo-fascist movement that is supported and promoted by the ruling class and its corporate media outlets.

Only a broad-based alliance of working people, immigrants and the nationally oppressed can effectively counter efforts by the capitalist class to further impoverish and politically isolate the struggles against the economic austerity imposed on the majority of people inside the United States and around the world.