Opal Tometi’s interest in immigration reform was born out of personal experience. Tometi grew up in Phoenix—”ground zero for the anti-immigration movement,” she says—and is the child of immigrants. Her parents moved to the U.S. from Nigeria in 1983, and Tometi, 30, was raised in a close-knit community of Nigerian immigrants.
When Tometi was 16, her classmate’s mother was deported, and the girl came to live with Tometi’s family for a period. Shortly thereafter, Tometi’s uncle was detained briefly by immigration officials. Both incidents were discussed in whispers, and no one really explained to Tometi what had happened and why. She started searching for answers on her own, and, in learning about anti-immigrant initiatives and their parallels to Jim Crow laws, Tometi was moved to fight against what she saw as a grave injustice. “It was very personal,” says Tometi. “Because people I loved were at risk; I was at risk.”
As a student at the University of Arizona-Tucson, Tometi volunteered with the ACLU to monitor and report the activities of vigilantes who were stopping immigrants as they tried to cross the border. “I was in school during the day and at night listening in on the vigilantes on their walkie-talkies,” she says.
In 2010, Arizona Senate Bill 1070, a strict anti-immigration bill that stipulates that police officers can stop individuals and ask them to produce documentation to prove their immigration status, was passed. “SB1070 is basically racial profiling,” she says. “If we don’t come together, we’re going to see the gains of the Civil Rights Movement fully gutted.”
Today, Tometi is executive director of The Black Alliance for Just Immigration. “As the global economy becomes more dire, we see more Black people from the diaspora brave the U.S. borders looking for what they think will be better terrain,” she says. “What people often find are harsh conditions, relentless discrimination and criminalization.” Tometi has helped develop a network of Black immigrant organizations around the country. Her hope is that more African-Americans will join in the struggle for immigrant rights.
Who We Are
Despite our communities’ long history of fighting for human rights and dignity, racism still persists in U.S. laws and culture, which prevent communities of color from achieving social and economic justice. The national debate over immigrant rights is part of the current challenges to racial equity and human rights. The anti-immigrant movement has invigorated vocal opposition to fair and just immigration reform and to the gains of the Civil Rights Movement, such as affirmative action and voting rights. Black immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America experience racial discrimination as they navigate U.S. society and systems. They also face a more difficult immigration process and are racially profiled, leading to disproportionate rates of immigration detention and deportation. Among immigrant populations, black immigrants have the highest unemployment rates and earn the lowest wages, even though they are among the most educated.
The Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) believes that a thriving multiracial democracy requires racial, social and economic justice for all. African Americans and black immigrants are stronger together and we can win by becoming leaders in the fight against structural racism and systemic discrimination. BAJI was formed to bring Black voices together to advocate for equality and justice in our laws and our communities.
What We Do
BAJI educates and engages African American and black immigrant communities to organize and advocate for racial, social and economic justice. Local BAJI Organizing Committees in New York, Georgia, California and Arizona build coalitions and initiate campaigns among communities to push for racial justice. At the local and regional level, BAJI provides training and technical assistance to partner organizations to develop leadership skills, works with faith communities to harness their prophetic voice, and initiates vibrant dialogues with African Americans and black immigrants to discover more about race, our diverse identities, racism, migration and globalization. BAJI’s flagship project is the Black Immigration Network (BIN), a national alliance that brings together black-led organizations and programs to advance just immigration policies and promote cultural shifts our communities need. The BIN kinship provides a safe, communal space for diverse black communities to connect, engage and advocate for equality and justice for all.