In January 2016, Sadat Ibrahim fled from his home in Accra, Ghana. Ibrahim had been living for years under the constant threat of imprisonment for being gay due to homophobic criminal laws in his country. After an anti-gay group known for killing queer people strategically targeted and beat Ibrahim, he escaped Ghana in an attempt to save his life.
Ibrahim’s escape took him to Brazil, Belize, and finally Mexico, where he journeyed across the border between Tijuana and California to seek asylum in the United States. Once in the US, Ibrahim presented himself to immigration officials and explained that he was a refugee seeking asylum for fear of persecution. Officials had him immediately detained. Sadat Ibrahim has now been detained for over 750 days and faces the constant threat of deportation. And since the Supreme Court ruled today that immigrants do not have the right to periodic bond hearings, indefinite detainment for Sadat Ibrahim and other immigrants could continue to be a reality.
There are around 575,000 undocumented Black immigrants in the United States, compared to over 9 million Latinx and Asian undocumented immigrants. Despite making up a smaller portion of undocumented immigrants, Black people comprise one out of five undocumented immigrants who are deported for “criminal” reasons. Ibrahim is one of countless examples demonstrating the violent use of state-sanctioned rhetoric against Black immigrants.
From the 1980s when Haitians and Haitian-Americans were blamed by the government for the HIV/AIDS crisis, to 2018 when Trump referred to African immigrants as being from “shithole” countries, anti-Black and anti-immigrant rhetoric has transformed into physical harm against Black people. Compounding this are the unique dangers that Black people, and Black undocumented immigrants, face from the state. They are disproportionately targeted, arrested, and brutalized by the criminal justice system.
When one considers the intensity of anti-queer sentiments across the globe, it’s easy to see how oppressive systems intersect to create harmful environments for Black and queer undocumented immigrants. In Ghana, being queer is punishable for up to three years in prison. In the United States, queer, trans, and gender nonconforming people are routinely harmed by the government, law enforcement, and the public. Even so, Black undocumented immigrants, and the intersections of race and sexuality, are often overlooked in the mainstream fight for immigrants’ rights.
Sadat Ibrahim is currently on a hunger strike to protest his detention by US forces. As he remains without food, he takes on a judicial, social, and political system that is set up to oppress undocumented immigrants of color. Though all detention and imprisonment is inhumane, Ibrahim’s situation rings particularly unfair. When he went to court to advocate for asylum in 2016, ICE withheld video evidence from the judge that supported Sadat’s fears of persecution in Ghana. Ibrahim’s request for asylum was subsequently denied.
Unfortunately, Sadat Ibrahim’s case is not rare. In the US, efforts to detain, dehumanize, and oppress undocumented immigrants are commonplace. In the first detention center Sadat was sent to in Georgia, over 90% of detainees were not provided with legal counsel and had to represent themselves in the court of law. A lack of legal representation is widespread throughout US detention centers and it further enables immigration officials to treat immigrants as if they are less than human.
Undocumented immigrants who are not detained—along with people who are profiled to be undocumented—are also routinely stripped of their rights. Black undocumented immigrants face a significant and unjust threat of deportation, surveillance and harassment by law enforcement, abuse and exploitation by employers, and discrimination in education.
It is our collective duty to fight for the rights of Sadat Ibrahim and all Black undocumented immigrants. We must call for a clean Dream Act in order to help create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people in the US. We must demand that our government continues Temporary Protective Status (TPS), a program that allows many immigrants across the Black diaspora to obtain provisional legal status in the US. We must fight to protect the Diversity Visa Program, a program that provides legal status to immigrants from countries with low immigration rates and awards a significant number of visas to immigrants from African countries. We must call for an end to detainment, border militarization, mass deportation and criminalization, and obstacles to employment. We must get Sadat Ibrahim free.
Despite the discrimination that Black undocumented immigrants face, we’ve seen them contribute greatly to this country. They follow the tradition of the Black people that came before them and all who come after. Our cultures, our spirits, and our lives have nourished the US, whether we were born here or not. Immigration is a Black issue, a queer issue, and a human rights issue. What side of history will you fall on?
— written by Jordan N. DeLoach
— edited by Darya Nicol
Organizers at BYP100 and MelaNation
To call for the release of Sadat Ibrahim, please sign this petition. To learn more about how to fight for just immigration, visit UndocuBlack’s resources on the Dream Act, Temporary Protected Status, and Diversity visas. You can also learn more about immigration reform at the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI).