We Got Us: Black Women Leading the Charge on Immigration Justice

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Haddy Gassama, Director of Policy and Advocacy, UndocuBlack 

Dana Fletcher, Director of Community Wellness, UndocuBlack 

The United States has historically brutalized its Black femme population; dehumanizing our foremothers with forced birthing, labor and nourishment for economic gain. This history of physical, emotional and economic violence is the often-erased backdrop against the newer norm and trending narratives around Black women saviorism imploring us to “listen to Black women,” particularly alongside celebratory utterances of “Black women always save the day” after nail-biting elections. There is no doubt that Black women can save America from itself, but at what cost? 

Black people have led, or played a pivotal role in, every social and political revolution in the U.S. If Black people built this country, then Black women were both the architects and masons of the modern concept of “American freedom”, a liberty that is rarely extended to them. Black immigrant women, and descendants of immigrants such as Shirly Chisholm, have been part of this building project, yet the mental toll of their contributions is often erased from the narratives of their achievements.

Since its inception, the UndocuBlack Network, a Black woman-led organization, has been fighting legacies of erasure, violence and the willful neglect of Black immigrant communities. Across several administrations, representing both political parties, we have interrogated and named the linkages between the U.S.’s history of anti-Blackness and its violent immigration enforcement system.  We’ve come to recognize and acknowledge the pillars of our resistance must be established on a foundation of self-care and collective healing. The survival of our community is political, and we do not shy away from that. But to continue our resistance, we must also work to heal. We cannot ignore this crucial part of the fight for justice. 

Within the Immigrants’ Rights movement, most Black immigrants’ rights organizations are led by women executive directors. This is not a coincidence; it follows the archetype of Black women pouring themselves towards the greater good of a people and country. When the movement reaches precarious places, the work of facilitating difficult conversations, teaching the movement, and fighting systems of power is led by Black women. It has become the norm for us to work towards dismantling systems designed to harm us, while simultaneously falling prey to these same systems. Not only is this unsustainable, it is also dangerous. The unnamed and unaddressed psychological harm of consistently entering immigrant rights movement spaces, as the only Black person, the only Black woman, often the youngest, is also a form of violence. Coming up against the unsaid expectation that we act as the voice and sole representative for the Black perspective and Black people who don’t get invitations to these spaces, is a form of violence. The physical and mental manifestations of this take a toll. If we are to truly celebrate and honor Black women in these spaces, we must recognize an urgent need for refilling the cups we pour from. 

Doing this work means taking care of ourselves, divesting from the legacies of capitalism – unlearning urgency. Unlearning the legacies of colonialism and all the ways it can show up in our work. In this vein, we learn from the leadership of Guerline Jozef, founder and executive director of Haitian Bridge Alliance who often says – “I can only serve you, but I cannot save you.” This ethos, as the only organization at the southern border intentionally supporting the needs of thousands of Black migrants, showcases how  Black women in the immigrant justice space are intentional about distinguishing a dignified idea of serving our people, a stark contrast from legacies of ego-driven acts of white saviorism. 

Standing in our power means standing in the knowledge that the spaces we create serve as a beacon of hope, inspiration, community and safety for our members in the midst of ongoing anxieties and uncertainties.  Being seen fully in our humanity means recognizing that as Black women, we are not superhuman, and we cannot do this alone. We are as strong as the ecosystems we grow and the relationships we build with policymakers who look to us for direction and our vision, with our co-conspirators whom we work alongside to create the realities we’d like to see, with our members whose needs and desires are our needs and our desires. We work as a collective to nurture the futures we would like to see for ourselves and for generations to come.  

We hope that with Black women at the helm, we can get to a place where we move beyond crisis and towards centering wellness. 

We’ve got us. We always have.