Recently the debate over the issue of immigration has become something of a national pastime.
Concern over immigrants has traditionally pivoted between outlandish claims that illegal immigrants crossing the border cause environmental degradation to the more legitimate fears of their impact on the job market.
Lost in the muddle of debate, however, is the effect that immigrants — specifically Black immigrants — could have on our education system.
Findings by “Black Immigrants and Black Natives Attending Selective Colleges and Universities in the United States,” a controversial new study published by the University of Chicago, has illuminated a striking disparity in the number of African-Americans attending universities compared to that of Black immigrants.
According to the study, while Black immigrants of African and Caribbean descent make up only about 3 percent of the 36 million Blacks in the U.S., they account for nearly 25 percent of the Black student population attending public universities.
This significant over-representation of Black immigrants in colleges across the country is felt even more resoundingly in the Ivy League setting, where Black immigrants make up 43 percent of the general Black student body.
The revelation of this sharp contrast in numbers has undoubtedly provoked some tension between the two groups, with many African-Americans protesting that affirmative action was intended to right the wrongs done to descendents of slaves and not as a means to open the flood gates of immigration.
Many Black immigrants counter, though, that they too have fallen victim to the same discriminatory policies affecting African-Americans and, therefore, should be entitled to the same benefits under affirmative action. In their view, when it comes to affirmative action, everybody is fair game — no matter the nationality.
University officials, in turn, deny preference of Black immigrants over African-Americans, citing that admissions is decided solely on the basis of how well a particular student performs on standardized tests.
This has been met with widespread doubt, however, as many claim that Black immigrants simply come off as friendlier than African-Americans and this greatly increases their chances of getting admitted.
According to researcher Nancy Foner, “to white observers, Black immigrants seem more polite, less hostile and ‘easier to get along with’ [than African – Americans].”
True or not, one should not over generalize — especially when dealing with immigrants.
Leslie Goffe wrote for BBC News Focus On Africa, “It is clear that because they are immigrants, Africans are more driven to succeed than many Americans, Black or white.”
Clearly, this overrepresentation of Black immigrants in American colleges marks one of the unintended consequences of affirmative action policies and adds yet another layer of complexity to the growing immigration debate.
The educational system has been tweaked in such a way that it pits one minority group against another. One well versed in African-American history knows, however, that such an antagonism is self-defeating — especially considering that some of the most important figures in the struggle for African-American rights (i.e. Malcom X, W.E.B. Dubois, and Shirley Chisholm) happened to be American-born children of Black immigrants.
Luci Storelli-Castro is a senior political science and philosophy major. Her column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.