My Black Immigrant Life

Written by Seydi Sarr

June 24, 2020

I am a Black Immigrant Muslim woman in Detroit. Every morning I wake up and check which part of my identity is being targeted. Will I wear my “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt for someone Black killed today? Will I wear my “Immigration is a Black Issue” t-shirt for someone deported? Will I advocate for access to healthcare to remember that I have a body and a voice? Will I speak out as a Muslim when my Muslim people are dehumanized and banned? These are the questions and choices that I face, and that my Black immigrant communities face, in a pandemic fueled by anti-Black racism and COVID-19.

As Black immigrants we know that our skin color can get us killed, choked, and mistreated. Police brutality extends to Black immigrants who have been killed in the hands of police, but many people don’t hear about these cases, like the police murder of Mohamed Bah in 2012 or Mubarak Suleimane this year. 

Mirroring patterns of anti-Blackness in all US systems, Black immigrants represent only 7.2% of the non-citizen population in the U.S, but make up 20.3% of those detained and deported. We’re hearing from RAICES that at the Karnes Detention Center in South Texas about 1/3 of the families brought there in the last 6 months have been Haitians. Here in Detroit we have scrambled over and over to raise money — $15k, $30k — for members of our Black community stuck in detention. This led us to launch the Black Immigrant Bail Fund in collaboration with the Haitian Bridge Alliance to help get Black migrants out of detention centers.

As Black immigrants we have taken care of each other to somehow survive through the past four months of pandemic. While most of our community members have lost their jobs, our rent has still been due, and our electrical bills. After months of late payment notices we know that many will receive vacate or formal eviction notices in the coming weeks. I think of the family of Khatim Toure who was deported in 2018 after more than 23 years in the US, leaving his wife and two daughters and a son to rely on our community to help pay rent and put food on their table. With so few of us with steady income during shelter in place, and no access to state or federal support, we joined together to open a mutual aid fund through African Bureau for Immigration and Social Affairs (ABISA). Since we opened on March 26 we have fulfilled 153 requests for assistance with basic needs, distributing $45,000 in donations. Today we still have $27,000 in pending requests. For our Black immigrant community, the racially charged economic crisis of the pandemic is far from over.

I am a Black immigrant Muslim woman, and I am not alone. Black immigrant communities are organizers of bail funds and mutual aid networks. We are “Immigration is a Black Issue.” We are “Black Lives Matter.” 

Please visit these links to donate to the causes mentioned above: ABISA’s Mutual Aid Fund, Black Immigrant Bail Fund

Seydi Sarr

Seydi Sarr is the founder and Director of ABISA (African Bureau for Immigration and Social Affairs), a nonprofit that helps African and Black Immigrants in Michigan and nationwide know their rights, access resources, and become socially invested and civically engaged. Seydi is a court interpreter, a Detroit Equity Action Lab fellow, a Michigan Political Leadership Program fellow and a New American Leaders fellow. Seydi curates intersectional conversations, fosters youth development, and teaches African dance. A Senegalese native, Seydi is a graduate of Wayne State University School of Social Work (BSW) and Marygrove School of Social Justice (M.A. SJ).

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