Undocumented immigrants are having a moment at the DNC, which opened Monday night in Philly with two Mexican women bringing the crowd to tears with their powerful testimonies.
But outside the convention hall, 24-year-old Jonathan Jayes-Green is trying to bring more inclusiveness to the immigrant community itself. The Panamanian, who moved to the United States at age 13, says he wants to “blackify” the narrative about undocumented immigrants in the United States.
“Anti-blackness has played a role in the mainstream immigrant rights movement,” Jayes-Green, 24, told Fusion in a telephone interview Monday. “Black immigrants are detained and deported at five times the rate of their presence in the undocumented immigrant community,” he said, citing research from Black Alliance for Just Immigration.
“Due to our identities, our communities are more likely to be targeted for enforcement, criminalization and deportation in this country—and that has to stop,” Jayes-Green told Fusion.
Jayes-Green got involved in the immigrants’ rights movement in college, when he started working to pass legislation to help young immigrants in Maryland.
But at a DNC panel on undocumented immigrants on Monday, he told the audience he was “hurt and distraught” when the immigrant community he was working with in Maryland didn’t stand alongside the black community after Baltimore police killed Freddie Gray.
“They were making comments about black people that I expected from white people,” Jayes-Green said.
That was when he co-founded the UndocuBlack Network, a group whose mission is to “blackify” the undocumented immigrant narrative in the U.S. and help identify resources available for the black undocumented community.
“The UndocuBlack Network is so much larger than myself, it’s a movement of diverse voices, identities, backgrounds coming together to shift the narrative and influence the outcomes of our communities,” Jayes-Green said.
Jayes-Green participated on Monday’s panel, hosted by Define American and Fwd.us., along with renowned filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas, Bernie Sanders’ former Hispanic Press Secretary Erika Andiola, and FWD.us political organizer Pamela Chomba.
Jayes-Green says that the small number of black immigrants who have applied for DACA, President Obama’s effort to shield qualifying immigrants from deportation, is evidence that immigrant advocates are not doing enough to reach people from Caribbean and African nations who would be eligible for the program. DACA, after all, is not just for Mexicans and Central Americans, although they are the ones who are benefiting most from the initiative.
For example, only 3,100 Jamaican immigrants applied for DACA, compared to 443,500 Mexicans, according to government data. Jamaica was the leading Caribbean country for DACA applications, but didn’t even rank in the Top 10 nations of origin for DACA applications.
“If we’re not providing support for our black immigrant communities of course they’re not going to be taking advantage of those program,” Jayes-Green said.