Obama represents the rise of African migration to U.S.

October 14, 2008                                                                                         Win a green card Subscribe in a reader
Obama and immigration

Many Americans are wondering these days, some with awe, and some with alarm, who is this Barack Obama and where did he come from? To some, it seems that the man who is one — albeit large — step away from the White House, came seemingly from out of nowhere, charming the media and the masses in equal measure.

As a representation of the African immigrant population in the United States, he’s been emerging all along.

What I call the “Obama Generation” is a broadly defined group of African immigrants, first-generation African-Americans and their children. It is a rich racial mix of blacks and mixed race, whose common denominator is their African link from one parent or another. Obama is the most visible member of this group. His father was a Kenyan educated in the United States. However, Obama was raised by his white American mother, while his father returned to Africa and never sought U.S. citizenship.

A groundbreaking study published by the African Migration Journal found that the influx of African immigrants to the United States over the last two decades has been phenomenal. According to figures from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the number of African immigrants in the United States more than quadrupled in the last two decades: from 109,733 in 1961 to 531,832 in 2000. These immigrants have graduate education and professional credentials that have enabled them to take advantage of opportunities to break into the field of medicine and higher education.

The United States has benefited immensely from the economic and political impasse in Africa over the past two decades, which led to the mass migration of some of Africa’s most noted young and highly educated professionals, the African migration study found. There are more than 21,000 practicing Nigerian physicians in the United States, according to the United Nations.

The African migration study further clarifies that the emergence of this group has been aided by two principle policies: the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act and the subsequent Diversity Visa Program that was introduced as part of the 1990 Immigration Act. The 1986 act made it easier for undocumented immigrants, including those from Africa then living in the United States, to become permanent residents. The Diversity Visa Program was aimed at promoting immigration from hitherto underrepresented countries and regions of the world, allowing up to 50,000 “qualified” Africans to migrate annually to the United States through a lottery process. This provided an avenue for highly skilled Africans to come and stay in the United States.

The Obama Generation will play an important role in the American economic and political landscape now and in the future. As we move into the post-Obama era, we are certain to see more first-generation immigrants seeking local and national political offices.

They will bring to the political landscape fresh perspectives on issues relating to diversity, trade, education and — most of all — immigration. Their perspective will be formed by their own exposure to these issues and, more importantly, by their recognition that they can offer a different avenue to resolve the impasse that has plagued these issues. It is a generation that is intellectually astute and politically aware, hungry to make a difference.

The Obama Generation is a representation of African immigrants and their offspring, who are gradually establishing themselves as influential players in the political, social, academic and economic life of America. Their impact has been illuminated by the emergence of Barack Obama. But their historical significance will be felt for many years to come.

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