George Bush And African Immigrants: What’s The Deal?

by Tokunbo Awoshakin

As the republican party shakes of the euphoria of winning the U.S. elections without a repeat of the 2000 Florida scenario; as George Bush gets set to begin another four year term as the president, it seem imperative that immigrants in this country, especially those of us from Africa should also begin to ask questions about our stake and welfare in this America where we live, work, pay taxes and raise up children.

Although the first four years and even during the campaign of both president bush and Senator Kerry, policies and electoral talk about immigrants seem to have centered on those from Latin America. To be sure, president Bush’s overt romance with Vicente Fox of Mexico and more covert disapproval for Cuba’s Fidel, were not unconnected to the administration’s attempt to secure more votes from and gain political acceptance among the Hispanic and Cuban immigrant community respectively.

Given that Hispanic immigrants are the fastest growing in the United States, nobody can blame Bush. In fact, it would seem that these were legitimate attempt by an administration that wanted to do everything possible to win a second term in office, while still remaining committed to its new improved and supposedly strict immigration policies.

Demographics of votes from the last elections and the number of key Latino people elected into offices are further attestations to the soundness of Bush investments in the Hispanic people in the United States. The fact remains however new immigrants are not just those for whom the guest workers program was designed nor only those who daily cross the borders into this country from Mexico, Haiti and Cuba .The bulk of new immigrants are not just those skilled workers from Asia on H-I visas. The bulk of new immigrants in the United States today are from Africa.

According to figures from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, formerly known as (INS), the number of African immigrants to the United States more than quadrupled in the last two decades; from 109,733 between 1961 and 1980 to 531,832 between 1981 and 2000.

The African diaspora is made up of those who are descended from Africa at some point in their or their family’s history. Statistics have it that there are now about 800 million Africans on the continent and perhaps up to another 100 million persons of African descent living in other parts of world like Brazil, the Caribbean, Canada, and parts of Western Europe.

A significant number of these people now reside in the United States. According to Pamela E. Bridgewater, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs during her remarks at the last Southern Interdisciplinary Roundtable on African Studies in Kentucky State University declared truthfully that: “There are now roughly 35 million citizens of African descent in the U.S. with a collective purchasing power of about $450 billion per annum — a sum that if represented by a single country would make it one of the 15 largest economies in the world”

To be sure, African immigrants to this country, boast some of the highest educational attainments of any immigrant group. The 2000 US census shows that, with 49 percent of African adult immigrants holding a bachelor degree, they are the most educated among all American immigrants. Similarly, it is on record that there are now more than 250,000 scientists and physicians of African descent in the United States. So what is the deal for these immigrants? What does another four years of George Bush portend for African immigrants?

Often times when officials of this administration talk about African immigrants, it is often in terms of what the U.S government is doing or failing to do to ensure the success of political and economic reform, to work to bring peace to war-torn regions, and to fight against HIV/AIDS and the other infectious diseases in the continent. Official statements on these sound great but what about the hundreds of thousands living here and raising children here in the shores of North America?

The focus of this article is not restricted to the usual analyzes of the strong human, economic, moral and strategic ties of United States to Africa, it is no longer just enough to tell journalists that the United States is Africa’s largest single market and that by providing more than $ 2 billion in overall development, humanitarian and security assistance, the United States is both the leading foreign investor and the largest bilateral aid donor to Africa. All these is true but that is not the focus here.

This article is not a replay of the official response of how a large proportion of the over $3 billion in remittances that Africa receives from the Diaspora each year originates in the United States and how over 30,000 Africans are studying in the United States today. The issue here is more than that. The questioned being explored here is whether certain policies of the bush administration are designed to directly, positively impact on African immigrants in the United States just as certain policies are specifically designed to directly and positively impact other immigrant communities in this country?

Speaking in Washington D.C January 2004, president Bush declared that: “of the jobs being generated in America’s growing economy are jobs American citizens are not filling.” “These jobs represent a tremendous opportunity for workers from abroad who want to work and to fulfill their duties as a husband or a wife, a son or a daughter,” It would seem that the president was simply talking about Hispanic immigrants at that time. At this time,’ the question is how would the president job programs, health care program, education, and immigration policies directly impact on immigrants of African decent?

It seem strange that an increasingly large group of people, who came to the United States, mostly already educated, mostly already speaking English and mostly always staying on the right side of the US law, still get a relatively meager attention from successive U.S government including the Bush administration.

African immigrants voting bloc is also a fast growing political bloc in the United States. Because unlike our counterparts in the 1960s and 70s, who always had the vision of returning home thus reluctant to become United States citizens, the new immigrants apply for citizenship once we become qualified to do so. According to Paul Zeleza, the number of African immigrants acquiring U.S. citizenship increased from 7,122 in 1988 to 21,842 in 1996. Altogether, about 108,441 Africans became naturalized citizens during this period. Upon acquiring citizenship, African immigrants become active.

An attestation to this came recently from, David Shinn, Shinn, a U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia in the mid-1990s who now teaches political science at George Washington University. He declared at a function in West Virginia University that: “An interesting phenomenon revealed by the closely watched 2004 U.S. elections is that African immigrants are becoming increasingly active in politics — exercising their new citizens’ right to vote and even running for political office.” It is not fresh to declare that African immigrants are valuable human resources for the United States. What would be fresh and pleasantly so, would be an explicit program by the Bush administration designed to specifically focus on African immigrants in the United States.

Some might quickly snob at the functional desirability and possibility of such a program. The fact that this group of immigrants is mostly dark skinned and thus assumed to be African-American may be a factor. “People think there are African Americans here – there is no identity at this point for African immigrants, although they are a sizable number and have a number of different issues that need addressing.” Says Jacob Olupona; a UC Davis professor of African and African American studies.

This factor is however an interesting research opportunity given that these immigrants are not so widely accepted by the “African American” as a result of misunderstandings between Africans and black Americans which dates back to before the time of slavery. This might explain why the Congressional Black caucus has not been as committed to the issues affecting African immigrants as much as the Congressional Hispanic and Congressional Asian Pacific-American Caucus have been to the issues affecting Latinos and Asians in this country respectively.

So when the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus recently sent a letter to the Bush Administration expressing strong opposition to the Administration’s proposed implementation for Sec. 1011 of the new Medicare law, the Congressional Black Caucus was silent.

The proposed federal rules would require hospitals to request information about a patient’s immigration status and keep records of that information on site in order to access federal reimbursement for the costs of providing emergency health care to undocumented immigrants. Reality check! Thousand of African immigrants would be denied health care based on the proposed federal rules. Who will speak for them?

Perhaps the challenges should be placed on the door of African Americans. What are these more than 250,000 scientists and physicians of African descent in the United States doing to desirably impact the lives of fellow African immigrants? How are these highly educated and enterprising immigrants population using their education and positions in this country to contribute to building a strong African diaspora in the United States?

Apart from the successive the establishment of different associations by professionals of African decent, like the recently formed national Association of African Journalists, one wonders when these professional would move beyond the scuttle for political offices in the associations and begin to challenge certain status quo about African immigrants. One wonders these highly educated African immigrants can form a united front and give a collective voice to African diaspora and issues affecting these new Americans. One wonders if the Democratic Party and indeed the Bush administration would take a second look at African Immigrants in this country.

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Anonymous December 30, 2005 - 5:19 pm

Great Analysis. However, there is a dearth of concrete demographic and economic data for the group as a whole. Even worse, there is very little segmentation by region/country of origin.. These stats are key for gaining and holding on to political, social, and economic influence

Visitor April 12, 2005 - 4:11 pm

Very well written and informative. We may have to/ must to learn to formualte ties with other political groups to push through any agendas beneficial to African immigrants. Coalition is paramount to any political gain,we cannot do it alone as a single ethnic group.


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