S04 E03: Black Justice is Our Justice

Pod Squad

Photo of Claudia Flores Claudia Flores Senior Campaign Manager Center for American Progress
Photo of Jill Yu Jill Yu Managing Director and Cofounder Act to Change
Photo of Abraham Paulos Abraham Paulos Deputy Director of Policy and Communications Black Alliance for Just Immigration

Our Host

Photo of Vanessa N. Gonzalez Vanessa N. Gonzalez Executive Vice President of Field The Leadership Conference

Contact the Team

For all inquiries related to Pod For The Cause, please contact Evan Hartung. ([email protected])

Episode Transcript

Pod for the Cause S4E3 Final Audio Transcript


Vanessa: Because of the unique history of the United States and the ways in which anti-Blackness was central to its founding, we must fight anti-Blackness in order to fight all forms of racism and discrimination in this country. In partnership with Black Alliance for Just Immigration, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights was proud to launch Black Justice is Our Justice, a campaign to center Black immigrant communities in our fight to end all forms of discrimination in America. The Black Justice is Our Justice will combat the common threads of bigotry, racism, and xenophobia by activating diverse communities to eradicate anti-Blackness in America. To learn more about how the Black Justice is Our Justice campaign is supporting Black immigrant communities in our pursuit for an America as good as its ideals, visit blackjusticeisourjustice.org.


Welcome to “Pod For The Cause,” the official podcast of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Leadership Conference Education Fund where we expand the conversation on the critical civil and human rights issues of our day. I’m your host, Vanessa Gonzalez. And like we start off every show, we’ve got the Pod Squad where we discuss pop culture, social justice, and everything in between. I’ve got some amazing folks on the Pod squad today. First off, we got Claudia Flores, senior campaign manager for Center for the American Progress. Hey, Claudia.


Claudia: Hey, Vanessa. Thank you for having me.


Vanessa: Next we got Abraham Paulos, deputy director of Policy and Communications at the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. Thanks for being here, Abraham.


Abraham: Thank you for having me. How are you?


Vanessa: And finally we have Jill Yu, managing director and co-founder of Act to Change. Hey, Jill.


Jill: Thank you for having me.


Vanessa: In this episode we’re talking about immigration as well as anti-Blackness and how we can combat it in our very own communities. But before we jump in I wanna set the stage with some quick stats. Per the Pew Research Center there are 4.2 million Black immigrants living in the United States in 2016. The immigrants make up 10% of the Black population in the United States and much like their American counterparts, Black immigrants lack access to quality housing and healthcare, are more likely to live in poverty than other immigrants, and are subjected to over policing, and disproportionate incarceration rates. Black immigrants are also more likely to be detained and deported, and they are six times more likely to face solitary confinement in ICE detention facilities.


We also know that despite the Biden administration’s recent executive order, hundreds of black immigrants from Haiti, Jamaica, Cameroon, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and other African, and Caribbean countries have been deported by ICE even though President Biden signed the 100-day moratorium on deportations. We’re gonna get into that a little bit, but before we get started I want to talk about what is anti-Blackness. We often say that we have to move away from anti-Blackness, that a lot of systems and programs are centered on anti-Blackness. And so Abraham, what does that mean? When we ask people to move away from their anti-Blackness, what are we asking people to do?


Abraham: I mean, I think it stems clearly out of racism which is institutional and based around White supremacy. But anti-Blackness also goes into other communities such as our Latinx community, our Asian American community. And what it does is that it basically says that this inherent anti-Blackness which is a sort of not necessarily a disdain, but this tension between within those different communities and different cultures against anything Black, whether it’s darker skin, whether it has anything to do with, you know, Africa and the diaspora. So what it is is that it’s an extension just outside of racism that goes into other communities that might be also going through systematic oppression and racism. But even within that community, we go a little deeper that brings into light how we are essentially not providing sort of a solidarity that’s real with Black people.


Vanessa: Thank you so much for sharing that perspective. When people think about immigration and immigration issues that face our country, people often and automatically go to immigrants from Central America, South America, right? Mexican in particular. I am from Texas and so that was a long part of the conversation and so we often leave out of the whole immigration conversation our Black brothers and sisters, who are just as we just heard in danger of immigration, ICE coming at them, in danger of deportation. And so I wanna ask Claudia. The Biden administration made a concerted effort to center immigration legislation and reform priorities, and we are all excited about that. And they issued the 100-day moratorium on deportations. But why is it important for the administration to center Black immigrants in all their work starting from day one as they’re looking at the larger systems?


Claudia: Look, I think the fight for racial justice is tied to the fight for immigrant justice. You know, it is important I think for me as a person of color, as a non-Black women of color, immigrant in this country to be an ally to the Black community by being an active participant in dismantling these systems of oppression. The way I see it and the way others have also shared why it’s important to have a race equity lens is because we want people in this country to be able to not just have citizenship, but even for those with citizenship to be able to live a life full of dignity. And what we see right now especially at this moment when our country faces the challenges of COVID-19, you have a president that ran as a candidate on this whole notion of building back better.


And I think what we as advocates and myself included, what we’re trying to do is making sure that we are holding the president accountable to that notion in making sure that we are addressing the issues that are disproportionately hurting our communities and that means addressing the issues that are really hurting Black and Brown people in this country. We know that in the case of immigrants, we know they call as essential to the labor market, but then we have these policies that treated us as expendable. So what we need from the Biden administration and we’ve seen, you know, some serious leadership so far, but we have some of these discrepancies especially on the field because we have these systems, right? Like, if you think about ICE, you know, these systems were put in place to dehumanize people and to prevent them from living free in this country. So that is what we’re fighting right now and it’s an uphill battle. But it’s one that I am hopeful that with more energy and with more pressure, we can get to a better place in this country.


Vanessa: Everyone should look up Claudia Flores, Newsweek. She has an amazing piece that came out and thank you for always advocating and coming at it from a full community perspective, right? And I hear you on the Biden administration has made some declarations and some changes. Again people were excited about that, but the deportations are still happening and we have footage of those deportations happening. And so I just want to throw it out to all of you. We have heard reports that ICE kinda went rogue. So how do you hold these type of agencies accountable?


Abraham: How do you hold ICE accountable is really a great question. It is an agency that I think should not exist. ICE is a very new law enforcement agency, right?


Vanessa: After 9/11.


Abraham: After 9/11. March 2003 when Department of Homeland Security became that. And what we’re seeing with the deportations of Black people back to these countries is again this sort of disdain for Black people. And so Vanessa, you made mention about we get locked up in solitary confinement a lot more, right? We get racially profiled in the streets, right? And so I think a better way to sort of say what Black immigrants are going through is that most immigrants might want to assimilate and integrate into White America or Black immigrants assimilate into Black America, and so we carry the legacy, the sins of slavery, and the deportations to Haiti is a great example. It’s unforgivable Blackness for what Haiti had done to be the first Black Republic. And right now what we’re seeing is that that disdain, we don’t have Trump anymore, but what we have is more competent racism. And Black people are gonna be at the end of that, right? And going to what Claudia said, right? About why it’s important to center it. There’s a saying that is just those that are denied freedom, know freedom the most.


Vanessa: Absolutely. And Jill, I wanna bring you into this conversation because we have to talk about the recent rash of anti-Asian and Pacific Islander hate crimes that has horrified this country. We’ve definitely seen all the new stories, we’ve seen it all over social media. Can you tell us a little bit about how that is impacting the community?


Jill: Our position has always been the way we address hate is we need to first acknowledge and come to reckon with White supremacy. Like, that is exactly the root of why we are feeling excluded, why Asian Americans have been held up as a model minority when, you know, if you break down the sub groups, there are many of us who do not meet that mold and we’ll never meet that mold because of how the system continues to oppress us. It’s in the lens of this feeling of otherness. We were being targeted, we were being bullied because we were never accepted. We are always this perpetual foreigner and unfortunately like with our physical traits which we should be proud of, they are traditionally like, easy to spot and connecting it with the pandemic, right? Connecting it to the former president whose name will not be told, it exasperated and put a huge spotlight on these issues that we’ve been experiencing which is feelings of not being part of this country, feelings that we were to blame and because we look Asian or, you know, we have the features, we are the roots and the cause of why this pandemic is affecting the nation. And unfortunately he was using words that folks mimicked, kung flu or the China virus. I remember when I first like, experienced it, I saw an Instagram story of some woman who changed the words to…you know the song “Kung Fu Fighting”?


Vanessa: Yeah.


Jill: To kung flu and, you know, it got a lot of views. People thought it was hilarious and it struck a chord with me. I remember being younger I had some experiences where there was this other micro aggression, racism, it was a Hollister. They thought like the Buddha logo on the t-shirts… I don’t know if you all remember that, but…


Vanessa: I remember those. It was like, red.


Jill: And I said, “Rub my tummy.” Anyway, so it reminded me of that, like, how they minimize, like, our experience, our culture experiences and were trying to be funny, but it was incredibly hurtful.


Vanessa: And I wanna also make these connections, right? Because part of this is it’s deep rooted, it’s systemic, it’s what our country has been built upon, this idea of White supremacy and to continue to prop up White supremacy. I think a perfect example of that is this anti-Asian and Pacific Islander hate that we are seeing is not the first time in our country’s history and I think unfortunately, many Americans, myself included, did not necessarily learn about the deep history and in particular the camps in California, you know. I didn’t learn about some of that stuff until I was in college and even then so I think I only learned bits and pieces of it. And so when we look at what the Asian American community is going through, when we look at what the Black immigrant community and just the Black community in general is going through, I think it is helping a new generation of activists and organizer start to tie our history into the ongoing issues that we’re seeing. I mean, Abraham, do you have hope that we’re gonna start to learn how to push back against these things more effectively and stop them in their tracks?


Abraham: When you look at a lot of immigration laws, a lot of it was rooted in the Asian American bigotry, right? Against them, the Chinese Exclusion Act. I always like to remind people that this sort of hatred by White supremacy against the Asian community is deeply, deeply rooted. Going back to this question of hope, I think I would use the word “I’m positive,” right? And I feel positive with the youth, right? Understanding that what keeps us together is the fact that we have compassion for each other and we are fighting the same beast. And this can be said even with the numbers on voting, right? Like, the messaging right now is, “Oh, America is divided.” Actually White America is divided, where if you look at people of color, Black people, Asians, Latinx, we pulled up on the selection. We’re not divided, right? And so I’m feeling positive.


Vanessa: Jill, I see you, you should get in here. So what do you think?


Jill: You eloquently recognized, you know, a lot of the immigration histories that led to such exclusion similarly where we are, in the Asian American trajectory of like our social justice issues is owe that a lot to the civil rights movement that, you know, our black American brothers and sisters who led these movements to fight for these freedoms and we are allies in the movement. And I think it’s important to recognize that White supremacy and these exclusionary laws, they’re pitting our communities against each other intentionally. And we need to just confront that and recognize that it’s nefarious, they’re doing this on purpose. And the best way to dismantle that is to acknowledge it head on and then to grow together as a coalition, right? Like, let’s do this in solidarity.


Vanessa: Thank you so much for sharing that perspective. Now I want to turn to DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. So Claudia, can you keep give us a quick kind of run down on what DACA is and then how can it be improved? What are we looking at right now?


Claudia: I am one of the 800,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals beneficiaries and, you know, this is a program that is well known during the Obama era. This was an act, an executive power that he took when we saw that Congress was in moving legislation to address the plight of young immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. These are what some folks may refer to as Dreamers, others may refer to undocumented youth, but the DACA program, it’s been presented as sort of this band-aid approach. And the reality is that in this country, our immigration laws have not been reformed in more than three decades and as a result of that you have people that are living on the margins. And that is the case of the young people who were raised in this country for most of their lives who consider themselves Americans. And just as President Obama said during his announcement back in 2012, you know, these are folks that are American in every other way, but on paper.


So the goal of DACA was to protect folks and ensure that these folks were not priority targets for deportation. And I think it’s important to really center the conversation around DACA to the conversation around movement building, and why it was so critical for young people to come out and share their stories so that America could understand why this was important and that eventually moved President Obama to take action. And, you know, that includes Black people, Asians, Brown people coming together and sharing their unique stories.


So the DACA program has been there since 2012. It provides two-year work permits, it also the defers deportation. It is an exercise of prosecutorial discretion which really just means that the government will not deport you as long as you meet certain requirements. Obviously that is what it does in sort of legal terms. Obviously, we know that in practice there have been cases of deportations, there’s also been the further criminalization of immigrants under Trump. But, you know, looking forward into the program, there are so many people, and right now 650,000 is estimated that are currently protected under the program. Trump tried to end it multiple times. In fact he did end it in 2017. People went to the courts, they fought for the program, and that was one of the few things that actually did survive the Trump era.


So we have this program in place, there is a challenge to the legality of the program in Texas. So we are awaiting a decision from a judge notoriously known for being anti-immigrant, Judge Hanen. This is the same judge who prevented the Obama administration from implementing a program known as DAPA which would have been Deferred Action for Parents of Americans. So you know, we are cautiously optimistic about what could happen in this case, but this is a direct threat to the program. Folks who are listening today may know that the Supreme Court did keep the DACA program in place after the Trump administration tried to end it multiple times, but the case out in Texas is particularly worrisome because it is a direct threat on the legality of the program. And depending on how that decision is made, that could really impact what the Biden administration could do through the executive branch in order to protect not just Dreamers, but other portions of the undocumented population. So there is much anticipation for what could happen in Texas over the next, who knows, weeks, months. We don’t have a set timeline.


Vanessa: So I have two questions for you. What can we do to make sure that Black immigrants are also included not only in the narrative, in the program of DACA, and what that looks like? And then also this program has been ping-ponged since, I can’t even remember the first time it had to go to the courts. So what can we do to stop it and make it just be put it into the life blood of the country and make sure that DACA lives forever? What do we need to do?


Claudia: I mean, at this point storytelling is really critical, sharing the stories of who are the folks that are impacted, but I also think it’s important to underscore, you know, how we have expanded what is a mass deportation and detention system. And at the same time we haven’t keep up with the necessary reforms that we need to build a system that works for all Americans. Employers need to hire people, there’s business needs, there are family ties that the average DACA recipients came to the United States when they were minor. So, you know, these are folks that have been in the country for a very long time. So I think it’s important to underscore those ties to the community.


At this point in terms of this case in particular, there isn’t frankly much we can do other than wait on this court ruling, but there are things that Congress can do. One, pass legislation, that is critical. We need permanent protection. That is the only way that we can get to a formal pathway so that DACA recipients and Dreamers broadly are able to get those protections. And then I think centering the conversation around racial and economic justice is so critical right now because of COVID. We have the president who has said that he’s going to provide relief to Americans that are struggling as a result of the pandemic and this is not something that is just impacting a portion of the population, it’s impacting all of us, you know. There’s 200,000 DACA recipients who are considered frontline essential workers and that includes Black immigrants, you know, that includes Hispanic Americans. So we need to be talking about who those people are, and as President Biden moves forward with an economic recovery package in Congress, there are opportunities that Democrats can take to make sure that legalization is part of that conversation.


Vanessa: And Abraham, I wanna give you the chance to weigh in here.


Abraham: So with DACA, one of the unfortunate thing is that if you had any contact with the criminal system, you can’t get it, right? So I’m a green card holder and I’ve had contact with the criminal system in my youth, right? So this makes it hard for me to be a citizen, I’m up for deportation because of this contact with the criminal system. And it just kind of goes to show that the criminalization aspect of any immigration bill or any immigration reform really hurts Black immigrants, right? Because we’re overpoliced, racially profiled, you know, it’s called the new Jim Crow as it is right now. Mass incarceration has decimated the Black community including immigrants. Like, when we walk outside of our doors, when we walk out in our communities, right? We are dealing with the largest aggressor of White supremacy in this country and that is the police.


And what’s so interesting is that the immigrant legislation movement is giving that as the trade off to sort of say, “Hey, we want legalization for criminalization.” And that’s just a dog whistle for saying that, “We’ll legalize these folks that are awesome great people.” Claudia, I feel like you’re a valedictorian in many ways, right? And to be more inclusionary for those that are poor who are impoverished, deal with the jaws of the mass incarceration system and the criminal legal system, right? And so when we talk about moving forward and having a moderate immigration system, Claudia said that it’s been three decades. It was the 1996 laws, right? We need something modern and part of that is also the society realizing the criminal legal system is racist, and praise on Black people.


Vanessa: So this has been an excellent conversation. I think as we talk about structures and we talk about laws, a lot of that stuff can feel very out of touch and out of reach for folks. And I think we have to look personally inside our own communities as a woman of color who is…I guess I’m called a White Latina now because I present very light, got freckles, red hair, the whole thing, very proud of my heritage. But I think we have to look at how are we continuing to perpetuate anti-Blackness and how we’re seeing that continued in our structures and our systems.


So for instance, it was not unusual growing up to be told…I couldn’t go into the sun, to be told make sure, right, that during the summer you’re covered up, make sure that you keep your fair pretty skin, right? And when you’re young you kind of do what your parents tell you, right? And then as you start to grow you think, “Oh, my God.” Right? It really starts to hit you on how communities are perpetuating this. And so I think as we’re having these conversations and we’re rooting for each other to continue to be the people who will dismantle systems and erect new systems, it’s really important for folks to really take a look inward and also have those internal conversations with not only yourself and your family, but also your communities, right? How are we continuing to push to move against anti-Blackness and make sure that we’re really representing and holding it up for each other?


Abraham: I mean, you know as we move forward I like the term allies. I think it’s a good term, right? And I think it shows solidarity. I think to go deeper, right? Because I feel allies is more a professional term, right? I think what the Black community needs now is friends and family, not looking at our struggle as if we’re just some siloed othering of the community. Like, we’re peoples. You know what I mean? Like, me, Jill, and Claudia could probably get down and have a really good time.


Claudia: I think so.


Abraham: I hope so. I…


Vanessa: I wanna go. I wanna be invited.


Abraham: Absolutely. You too, Vanessa. You know, but anyways, I just wanted to make that point, to get out of this idea of just, you know, allies, just on our justice issues, right? But just as friends. You see somebody walking down the street and you’d be like, “Okay.” You know what I mean? “I got you,” you know.


Jill: I’ll just piggyback. I mean, I love that because, you know, like, one thing in our anti-bullying work that we do here is it can be a very heavy issue, the idea of hate, the idea of feeling excluded, and we definitely have resources if, you know, you feel and need to seek help. But at the end of the day what we’re trying to promote is kindness. And it’s not just tolerance, it’s an understanding, a deep understanding of how is this person’s journey get to this part and how do we love them, and how do we grow to love each other. And we like to use this term as hate is the virus or racism is the virus, you know, kindness heals. That’s the direction that we should be going, acknowledging our histories, but then what’s right after that. It’s this idea of human nature, this decency, with our love and generosity, and just kindness in general.


Vanessa: I love it. Thank you all for all of the amazing work you’re doing. Thank you for being such amazing leaders and for representing, and speaking out. This has been an amazing conversation and so I want to say thank you again to the incredible Claudia Flores, Abraham Paulos, and Jill Yu for joining us on “Pod For The Cause.”


Thanks for listening to “Pod For The Cause,” the official podcast of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Leadership Conference Education Fund. For more information please visit civilrights.org, and to connect with us, hit us up on Instagram and Twitter @PodForTheCause. And you can also text us, text Civil Rights, that’s two words, Civil Rights to 40649 to keep up with our latest update. Be sure to subscribe to our show on your favorite podcast app and leave a five-star review. And then till next time. I’m Vanessa Gonzales. Thanks for listening to “Pod For The Cause.”