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
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,
“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
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
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
“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
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