Through organizing and activism—and the uproar surrounding the issue of immigration—the plight of undocumented youth has been forced onto the national political stage. From rallies and civil disobedience to protest marches and trips to Capitol Hill, a pattern begins to emerge of smart, hard-working, undocumented Latino students tackling enormous barriers to gain citizenship and college opportunities.
Yet when you pull back for a panoramic view, an interesting aspect comes into focus. The undocumented experience is more diverse racially and ethnically than commonly thought, and the backgrounds and life experiences of many young immigrants are more unique. A Pew Research Center report from 2015 found that 3.8 million black immigrants are living in the U.S., quadruple the number in 1980. While black immigrants come from around the world, the Caribbean, Africa, Central America, and South America are the largest sources of foreign-born blacks. Additionally, a detailed analysis published in April by the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank, reveals some 600,000 black immigrants in the U.S. are undocumented.
Counted among this group is Ainslya Charlton, 22, who graduated this month from Trinity College in Connecticut with a bachelor’s degree in political science and human rights. Her story as a black undocumented student further shatters the perception that immigration reform is only a Latino issue. She recently shared her perspective with The Atlantic on battling different forms of discrimination—facing anti-black racism as well as anti-immigrant fervor—and finding her rightful place. The interview that follows has been edited lightly for brevity and clarity.