Black and undocumented in Trump’s America

June 20, 2018

The story of Prince Gbohoutou is a reminder of the horrific conditions facing some 600,000 Black undocumented immigrants in the U.S., writes Lea Ramirez.

WITH OUTRAGE at the Trump administration’s border policies reaching a fever pitch, it’s worth recounting the situation facing Prince Gbohoutou, an asylum-seeker from the Central African Republic (CAR) who is currently being detained at Frederick County Adult Detention Center in Maryland.

Gbohoutou is emblematic of the seldom talked-about injustices confronted by those who are both Black and undocumented. “Although only 7 percent of non-citizens in the U.S. are Black, they make up 20 percent of those facing deportation on criminal grounds,” according to the Atlantic.

Gbohoutou came to the U.S. legally when he was 14 years old. His father worked for Central African Republic’s ambassador to the U.S., and he requested political asylum for himself and his family as the intensity of the country’s civil war increased between 2012 and 2014.

Supporters demand the release of Prince Gbohoutou in Baltimore
Supporters demand the release of Prince Gbohoutou in Baltimore (UndocuBlack Network)

Not long after the Gbohoutous’ application and appeal were denied, Prince’s mother “was kidnapped, tortured and killed in Central African Republic,” according to the Frederick News-Post, the local paper in the Maryland town where Prince is currently being detained.

Fearing the same fate for him and his son, Prince’s father decided that living undocumented in the United States was better than returning to the CAR and being killed. Tragically, Prince’s father died shortly thereafter, leaving Prince to fend for himself as a young, undocumented Black man in America.

In 2014, Prince was detained by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) for six months for an unknown reason, according to his immigration attorney Adam Crandell. Prince’s supporters question whether previous criminal charges — separate accusations of shoplifting and failing to present ID to police during a traffic stop — were the reason, even though the charges were dropped.

Gbohoutou’s experience with the criminal justice system is all too commonly faced by Black people, especially Black men. According to research by The Sentencing Project, “A recent investigation of all arrests — not just those resulting from traffic stops — in over 3,500 police departments across the country found that 95 percent of departments arrested Black people at a higher rate than other racial groups.”

AFTER GBOHOUTOU was released from ICE custody, he was required to make regularly scheduled check-ins.

Under the Obama administration, scheduled check-ins for those known to ICE were commonly given “low priority.” The Trump administration, however, has targeted even these low-priority cases for deportation, which is causing more immigrants to be afraid of making their scheduled check-ins.

Last May, Gbohoutou married his high school sweetheart Shaniece Hodges and applied for a green card. His first ICE check-ins after Trump was elected went smoothly. However, at his last check-in on April 19, ICE informed him that he would be deported. Hodges quickly reached out to Sanctuary DMV, an immigrants right group, to help her husband.

On May 16, a motion was filed to reopen his case, but despite the motion, ICE took Gbohoutou to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on May 24 to be deported to CAR. Terrified that he would be killed upon his return, Gbohoutou refused to board the airplane. According to the Washington Post, when the van carrying Gbohoutou arrived at the airport:

ICE agents opened the van’s door and ordered him out. But Gbohoutou, with shackled hands, said he held fast to the seat...As suitcase-toting bystanders looked on, Gbohoutou said, an ICE agent struck him on the legs with a baton while others tried to yank him out of the van. Eventually, the ICE agents cut the seat belt with a knife — nicking Gbohoutou’s hand — before handcuffing him to a wheelchair and taking him to his flight, he claimed.

In what can be considered an act of solidarity, the airline refused to take an “unwilling passenger,” recalling a similar report when pilots in Germany refused to participate in the deportation of 222 refugees from Afghanistan last December. Prince’s deportation has not happened as of yet.

On June 8, around 80 activists and local community members mobilized for a vigil to demand Prince’s release from the Frederick County Adult Detention Center where he was being held.

SEVERAL CRISES lie behind the record numbers of people on the move around the world today — war, poverty generated by the global economy, violence and environmental disasters. There are currently 600,000 undocumented Black immigrants living in the U.S.

According to the Center for Migration Policy, “For the first time, non-Mexicans are the majority of people crossing the border.” More than 3 million Black immigrants, for example, are from the Caribbean or Northern and sub-Saharan Africa.

According to a 2016 Los Angeles Times article:

The biggest number in this new wave of international migrants are from Haiti. More than 5,000 Haitians have shown up at California ports of entry without visas and been deemed “inadmissible” since October 2015, a huge increase over the 336 who arrived the previous fiscal year.

The narrative around immigration seldom reflects the situation of Black undocumented immigrants. The UndocuBlack Network was created to highlight stories such as Prince and others who are often forgotten. The connections between the criminal justice system and the immigration-industrial complex are intersectional for undocumented Black immigrants.

“It is difficult to see the images of Black people being killed by the hands of police, but even harder to deal with all that, while witnessing parts of the immigrant community [being devalued],” said Jonathan Jayes-Green, an Afro-Latino from Panama and co-founder of the UndocuBlack network.

In addition, “Black immigrants are detained and deported at five times the rate of their presence in the undocumented immigrant community,” according to Think Progress. One of the causes of this is the Secure Communities Act, which began under former President George W. Bush to draw local law enforcement into greater coordination with ICE.

“Local police are some of the biggest feeders into the immigration-enforcement system,” explains Will Gaona, the policy director of American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona.

THE TRUMP administration has made a priority of rolling back immigration protections won through past struggles, including the effort to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for undocumented people meeting certain criteria.

As Lider Restrepo put it at

Like TPS, DACA was a partial victory borne of struggle. It was a concession won by young immigrant activists in 2012 after the Obama administration failed to pass any form of comprehensive immigration reform and instead ramped up deportations to supposedly prove to Republicans how “serious” Democrats were about border security.

Please help us out do we look? We hope you’re highly impressed with the new and improved that we launched at the end of last month.

Help us spread the word. Sign up for daily e-mail alerts from SW to keep up with our coverage, and get your friends to, as well.

Can you spare a contribution to keep this website going and growing? Click here to donate — we appreciate anything you can give.

Where does that leave people like Gbohoutou, who is fleeing political violence, or Manuel Antonio Cano-Pacheco, the Iowan DREAMer who was deported back to Mexico and killed only three weeks later?

The 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States are highly diverse and come here for a number of reasons. The immigrant rights movement must recognize the need for solidarity with movements such as Black Lives Matter and the LGBT movement, because this will make all of these movements stronger.

June 20 is World Refugee Day. Find an action near you and demand justice for all immigrants, including Claudia Gonzalez, Roxsana Hernandez and Prince Gbohoutou.

Further Reading

From the archives