Feature Article of Friday, 21 June 2002
Columnist: Nkatia-Kumi, James
Newark mayoral elections is over and political analysts are busy giving post mortem review of the results. I have read with special interest these analyst and political “know alls’ review and it is interesting to know that a big chunk of political gold mine has been overlooked. This group is the African immigrants, the political giant that is now awaking.
Up until 1970s the significant African descent immigrants in USA were the Caribbeans. Due to the proximity of the USA the Caribbean immigration is natural and African American history is inseperable from from Caribbean immigrants. The struggle in American history from slavery to the present has strong Caribbean influence
By 1970 African immigrants were mostly students and their families from English speaking countries mainly from Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, East Africa and South Africa. Even though the number was significant there was no visibility of this population due to illegitimacy of their immigration status until mid of 1980. Under President Reagan, Congress passed immigration amnesty legislation, which provided legal status to illegal immigrant in USA. Suddenly the African immigrant literally came out of closet and with legal status they were able to bring more relatives to USA and their number multiplied.
More positive immigration policy news followed in early 1990 when Congress again passed another legislation to bring balance quota for immigrant to USA. This legislation aimed at providing fair balance of all immigrants in USA. This was implemented in lottery system and all countries in Africa were qualified to apply. During this period many African countries were facing political and economic hardship and the immigration lottery was a savior. The result was tremendous interest in Africa. While many African applied for the lottery in hundreds of thousands others who are political victims in their countries sought political asylum. The largest group of political asylum seekers was Liberians who were crippled with bitter civil war. USA with historic ties with Liberia rightly was liberal with Liberian asylum seekers. Also in 1990s,after the Gulf war many French-speaking African countries that supported the alliance were rewarded with liberal visas and immigration of thousands of citizens mainly from Senegal, Guinea, and Mali emerged. There is no period in immigration history in USA many Africans voluntarily migrated to USA than in 1990s and 2000 census figures released by the Star Ledger last week reflexes substantial increase of Sub-Saharan African immigrants in some cities in Essex County.
It is worthy of note that since air is the main transportation from Africa, New York area and the airports are the main point of entry in USA. It therefore not coincident that New York area has the largest concentration of African immigrants and New Jersey has the second concentration after New York.
In New Jersey the concentration is in the urban areas and the immediate suburbs. Most immigrants reside in Newark area and other concentration is in Jersey City, Paterson, Union and Elizabeth. The largest group and better organized is Ghanaian and Nigerian communities but other immigrants although fragmented are gradually coming together.
What makes this African group a growing political force to recon with especially in New Jersey politics? The recent immigration policy, which puts much emphasis on citizenship, has forced these immigrants to change their legal status to citizenship as soon as they qualify, and this is after three year. Citizenship also makes it easier to bring relatives to USA. About 80% African immigrants are now USA citizens and eligible to vote. Secondly, voter registration campaign is easy in this group. These are citizens from countries where democracy has been denied or in experimental stage so it is a sense of pride to be able to vote in elections in USA. As soon as citizenship is obtained the individual voluntarily register to vote without any solicitation.
The African immigrant voters are going to be determining factor of political equation in areas of dominant African descent population like Newark or Essex County. African immigrants in USA emerged after the tumult of the Civil Right movement and even though these immigrant have read and respect Dr. Martin Luther King as well as the living civil right personalities like Jessie Jackson, their influence has little on no effect on their political decision .In other words, the African American political establishment has no effect on this group. This African immigrant group is independent political gold mines which need to be exploited. The group is a new mine field which is open to both political parties. The future elections in New Jersey and areas of high concentration of African immigrants may need this equation to determine the future winner of future elections.
Newark mayoral election was a real dress rehearsal for this group. Corey Booker main constituent was this group. He visited many African immigrant groups. Governor McGreavy also appealed to the African immigrants during the gubernatorial election.
Now the African immigrant communities are getting better organized politically. Their socio economic influence is been felt in New Jersey. This sleeping political giant is fully awake and will sleep no more.